LITTLE ROCK — A state House committee voted Thursday to recommend that the full House suspend its rule prohibiting campaign fundraising by members during the fiscal session.
The House Rules Committee had said last month it would recommend changing the rule to allow fundraising during the fiscal session, which begins Monday, by members who are candidates for federal office, but it changed course Thursday after further discussion.
The issue originally came up when Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, who is running for the 4th District congressional seat, asked the panel in a letter whether the fundraising ban applied to him. He cited an advisory opinion by the Federal Election Commission that said a ban in Georgia on fundraising during a session by legislators running for federal office ran afoul of federal law.
On Thursday the panel met to vote on a draft resolution containing the rule change it intended to recommend, but during discussion of the measure Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, who had not attended the previous meeting, said she had concerns about the proposal.
"Thirteen months ago, when we were seated as members of this House, we voted to agree to these rules," said Lea, a candidate for state auditor. "By voting to approve these rules we voted to abide by them in acknowledgement that we were a member of the House of Representatives."
Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, told Lea that Westerman has asked the panel for an interpretation of the rule, but members felt that interpreting the rule as not applying to some members would be "arbitrary."
"The rule was very plain and straightforward on its face," Broadaway said. "There was not really wide room for interpretation. So instead of interpreting the rule, we felt like perhaps the best solution would be to come in (and) make a change that … addressed the problem that was brought forth by Rep. Westerman."
Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, advocated suspending the rule, which he said would be less drastic than changing it and would allow the Legislature to give the issue a more careful look after the fiscal session. He also said it would put House members on an equal footing with senators, who are allowed to raise funds during fiscal sessions.
Both the House and Senate ban fundraising by members during regular sessions, which are held in odd-numbered years.
"I don’t think that we really should jump to the conclusion that because the FEC in a court case said this, it applies here. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t," Williams said.
The committee ultimately voted to recommend that the House speaker call the House members into caucus on Monday morning to vote on suspending the rule before the chamber convenes at noon for the opening of the session, and to recommend that the issue be studied in the interim before the 2015 regular session, possibly by a task force.
Suspending the rule would require a two-thirds vote of the quorum, or 67 votes if every member of the 100-seat House attended. Changing the rule would require a two-thirds vote of the total membership, or 67 votes regardless of who attended.
Lea did not vote for the recommendation. She told reporters that even if the House changes the rule, she will not raise funds during the session.
"I knew going into the fiscal session what it was going to mean, that I wouldn’t be raising money, and I was OK with that. Because yes, I’m a candidate, but I’m a member of this House and voted on rules that I think are ethical for us to abide by," she said.