Incumbent politicians already have a huge advantage over challengers. Their advantage will be even greater after this campaign season thanks to the passage of the deceptive constitutional amendment, Issue #3 of 2014.
A candidate who ends the election with left over campaign funds is allowed to retain for the future an amount equal to the salary of the office sought. This is known as “carryover funds” [i] “Carryover funds” may be transfered to a future campaign. Carryover funds may also be used as “officeholder expenses” which includes such things as office expenses, advertisements, flowers, travel (including conferences), meals, etc. Officeholder expenses allow the incumbent to purchase future campaign materials and to pay consultants to help them avoid opponents.
Issue #3 established a commission to set salaries of elected state officials. (The commission is appointed by elected officials who benefit from the salaries.) Salaries for legislators increased from $15,869 to $39,400, which is 2.5 times greater. The Governor’s salary increased from $87,759 to $141,000, which is 1.6 times greater.[ii]
The salary increase approved by the commission means the amount of carryover fund incumbents may retain increased by the same amount! Incumbents can start the next election cycle with tens of thousands of dollars and, for legislative races, possibly be able to fully fund another election campaign. Meanwhile, potential challengers try to raise enough money to just pay filing fees.
Even unopposed candidates may accept campaign contributions to build up their war chest.
You may remember, in return for huge increases in legislative salaries the commission asked legislators to eliminate state payments of up to $14,000 for legislative office expenses. Legislators agreed. But, now we are aware the increase in allowable carryover funds, which may be used for office expenses, is far greater than state expense money given up.
The higher carryover fund limit is another hidden result of the deceptive Issue #3. Does your legislator see the higher carryover limit as an unintended consequence and an ethics problem that needs to be corrected in the upcoming special session? Was the carryover limit already too high? More importantly, do you see it as an ethics problem needing correction?
[i] A.C.A. 7-6-201
[ii] Pay panel backs more than doubling legislators’ salaries, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 01/30/2015