Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Close the PAC loophole

Rep. Throne bill limits contributions by PACs

A campaign finance bill that closes the loophole in state law that allows political action committees (PACs) to completely dominate local elections passed the House Corporations Committee Tuesday.

Rep. Mary Throne’s bill proposed limiting PAC contributions to $1,000 per election. The committee amended it to allow PACs to contribute $3,000 per election.

The ESPC supports the measure. State law presently imposes no limits on PAC contributions. That loophole in finance law was exploited in the 2006 campaign by a political action committee set up in Natrona County.

In 2006, the Committee to Elect Natrona County Candidates received $11,757.48 from a single contributor. The PAC subsequently contributed $11,190.77 to a candidate for Natrona County Commission during and after the 2006 general election campaign. The actions of the committee were duly reported in campaign reports filed in the Natrona County Clerk’s Office by the PAC and the county commission candidate.

We contend the action violated the spirit of state campaign finance law, which seeks to limit the ability of a wealthy few to dominate state and local elections. The $3,000 limit will reduce the ability of a PAC to dominate relatively low-cost contest for local and legislative offices.

A reporting clause in Rep. Throne’s bill requires all candidates to report any contribution of $500 or more made in the last days of an election campaign within 24 hours. The wording on this requirement is tricky.

State law, the bill notes, says this (lines of text are numbered in bills – this is excerpted from Page 4 of HB 117):

12 (i) Every candidate shall file a fully itemized
13 statement of receipts at least seven (7) days before any
14 primary, general or special election with information
15 required by this subsection current to any day from the
16 eighth day up to the fourteenth day before the election.

Rep. Throne proposed this reporting requirement:

17 Any additional receipts of five hundred dollars ($500.00)
18 or more received from any one (1) contributor, other than
19 the candidate or the candidate's immediate family, shall be
20 reported not later than the close of the following business
21 day;

The committee approved two amendments aimed at clarifying the reporting requirement. Together, those amendments insert the following words on line 17, before the word “Any”:

“After the date the fully itemized statement of receipts is due, and prior to or on the date of the election,” …

I know this is an exhaustive look at legislating details. But if you’ve read this far, you may have another question. Is it possible to evade the 24-hour reporting requirements on contributions made during the 14th to the 8th day prior to the election? What if those contributions are not listed in the report that must be submitted by the 7th day before the election?

Party limits? Pre-election reporting for PACs?

It’s one step at a time with campaign finance reform. More steps lie ahead. State law presently does not limit contributions by political parties. We should look at the reasoning for the lack of a limit.

Imposing similar pre-election reporting requirements on PACs would continue to build on the legislature’s effort to make the campaign financing process more transparent. The public deserves to know who is funding PACs during the last two weeks of campaigning.

House Bill 117 could be amended to instruct PACs to list both receipts and contributor names seven days before an election. Similarly, PACs could be required to file daily reports of large receipts and of contributions made to candidates in the last 14 days of an election.

Here’s another consideration. Campaign finance guru Robert Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies in L.A. suggests imposing individual limits on contributions to PACs. Wyoming law limits individuals to total contributions of $25,000 per election to individual candidates. But there does not appear to be any limit on individual contributions to PACs.