submitted by Nancy Soreng
Every election cycle, increasingly large amounts of money are poured into political campaigns by wealthy individuals, corporations, political action committees and sources that are difficult to trace. Representative democracy is 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 and spending as well refinements to campaign finance laws that increase compliance; and legislation that seeks to eliminate outright deception in campaign advertising.
In 2022 we supported Senate Bill 15 which strengthened many penalties and procedures for holding campaigns accountable. It extends the statute of limitation for levying a penalty for campaign finance violations from three years to five years. This was important because it’s not always possible to discover and investigate unethical/illegal campaign activity within a 3-year timeframe. SB 15 also prohibits anyone from becoming a campaign treasure or candidate if in any of the 5 previous years they have failed to pay a civil penalty that was levied and it increased the maximum penalty for campaign finance violations.
Typically, LWVMD testifies about campaign finance legislation that requires transparency for the general public to understand the sources and amounts of donations that candidates are receiving. Last session, we supported HB 17 that requires the candidate to be more transparent with their donors and it seeks to eliminate a corrupt practice of charging donors for a recurring contribution when that may not have been their intention.
Another bill that we supported in 2022, SB 239, prohibits the use of donor information that is published on the State Board of Elections website for commercial or solicitation purposes. We supported this legislation, because the fact that there was no prohibition on using donor information in this way could cause citizens to hesitate to participate in the political process.
LWVMD and LWVUS have supported the establishment of public campaign finance programs for many years. Unfortunately, such a program has only be enacted in Maryland for candidates for Governor. Voluntary programs such as this can increase the number of candidates who have the capacity to run for office and reduce the influence of big money on those candidates as they are only allowed to raise small sums from a large number of donors. We will continue to support such legislation when it is introduced.
In 2023, LWVMD will support legislation that promotes fair campaigns, transparency in funding, and effective enforcement of campaign laws.
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