Thursday, February 28, 2008

Opening the floodgates

Money could drown system with new limits

The Equality State Policy Center's work to close a loophole in Wyoming's campaign finance laws instead has opened the floodgates to more money in Wyoming politics.

House Bill 9 - Campaign finance reporting was drafted to address a situation that arose in the 2006 elections. A political donor used a political action committee (PAC) to give more money to one candidate than was allowed under current limits on individual contributions.

Wyoming law presently imposes no limits on state PAC contributions to candidates.

We asked legislators to consider putting a limit on state PAC contributions. They did, but then they raised the individual contribution limit to the sky.

We hope the Senate will either eliminate these sky-high limits or simply kill the bill on third reading today and try it again next year.

A little more background

We wanted the Legislature to impose a limit on state PACs because in 2006, a single individual in Natrona County used a state PAC he formed with his wife to funnel $11,200 to a county commission candidate. Using the PAC enabled him to circumvent existing limits on individual contributions. Those existing limits hold individual contributions to a single candidate to $1,000 per election or a total of $2,000 in an election cycle. ($1,000 for a primary election; $1,000 for a general election.)

The Legislature's Management Council approved an interim study of campaign financing last March and the Joint Corporations Committee agreed to plug the loophole. Unfortunately, House Bill 9 since has been turned into a vehicle to flood Wyoming campaigns with political money. As approved by the Senate Corporations Committee, the bill allows individual contributions of $3,500 per election, or $7,000 per cycle. State PACs would have the same limits EXCEPT in statewide races. A PAC contributing to a candidate for governor could give $7,000 per election or $14,000 total.

There's some irony here. Under the bill as it now stands, the guy in Natrona County could give $7,000 personally to a county commission candidate and another $7,000 through his PAC. The Legislature wants to plug an $11,000 loophole with a $14,000 cork.

Worse, a really rich contributor could give that amount of money to as many candidates as he or she chooses, because the proposed bill eliminates the $25,000 overall limit on any one individual's contributions during a cycle. There's no way that this bill keeps the playing field relatively level for grassroots candidates.

Call to action

Please contact your state senator and ask them either to reduce the limits or kill the bill. We hope an amendment will be offered on third reading tomorrow that will propose raising state contribution limits for both individuals and state PACs to the federal limit on personal contributions: $2,300 per election. (Considerably less than the $3,500 now in the bill.)

Please suggest to your legislator that he or she should protect Wyoming's election process from the corrosive effects of the far-too-high limits in the bill now.

Those arguing for the $3,500 limits maintain that the hike is justified because of inflation. That argument dismisses the political realities in Wyoming, where the average winning campaign in the 2006 general election cost about $11.700. The ESPC believes the limits should be more in proportion to the cost of campaigns in Wyoming, not campaigns conducted in Texas, New York, or California.