Issue Paper – Campaign Reform
Every election cycle, increasingly large amounts of money are poured into political campaigns by wealthy individuals, corporations, political action committees (PACs), and sources that are difficult to trace. Representative Democracy is being distorted by big spending in elections. This can impact political equity and discourage citizen participation in the political process. The League believes that the public has the right to know who is using money to influence elections and how much they are spending.
The LWVUS position on campaign finance supports:
- Public financing of elections, either voluntary or mandatory, in which candidates must abide by reasonable spending limits;
- enhanced enforcement of campaign finance laws that includes changes to ensure that regulatory agencies are properly funded, staffed, and structured to avoid partisan deadlock in the decision-making process;
- abolishing Super PACs and abolishing spending coordinated or directed by candidates (other than a candidate’s own campaign committee);
- and restrictions on direct donations and bundling by lobbyists, which may include monetary limits as well as other regulations.
LWVMD has supported campaign reform bills in three major areas: voluntary programs that prohibit accepting large campaign contributions and encourage candidates to accept small donations from a large pool of donors in order to qualify for matching public funds; legislation that increases transparency in campaign fundraising, spending, refinements to campaign finance laws that increase compliance; and legislation that seeks to eliminate outright deception in campaign advertising.
In 2021 we supported HB 415 which made significant changes to the gubernatorial public financing system. These changes include allowing participating tickets to ONLY accept small donations from private individuals, increasing the amount of matching funds to qualified candidates (based on a formula that allows those who participate in the program to be more competitive), and raising the number of private donations a ticket must receive in order to participate in the program. This bill also requires the Governor to include a budget appropriation that ensures the Fair Campaign Fund has sufficient revenue to be viable. Currently the fund is financed mainly by a check-off on income tax forms and penalties that are paid to the state for violations of campaign finance laws.
This session, there is likely to be a push to expand this program to candidates for the General Assembly. This bill has been submitted for at least a decade, but it seems to be gaining momentum.
Provisions in the federal Freedom to Vote Act will create the opportunity for states to create small dollar funding systems which will give voters more of a voice in elections. Over the break, LWVUS sent boxes of half page flyers to state League offices that cover the merits of small dollar funding. They are asking us to use these flyers over the course of the next year as we work to pass local and state legislation to support such programs.
Senator Jackson has pre-filed SB 15 Election Law – Campaign Finance – Enforcement which says that candidates who have been found to be in violation of campaign finance laws and have not paid their penalty, will be prohibited from running for office and may be subject to additional fines. LWVMD will support this bill.
Other legislation that will prohibit the use of altered images of election opponents in campaign ads as well as bills to detect foreign influence in elections may be submitted again. As stated above, LWVMD is committed to support legislation that promotes fair campaigns, transparency in funding, and effective enforcement of campaign laws.
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