Campaign Finance Reform - What form should it take?

Bill Fleming who is usually commenting over at Mt. Blogmore asked me about tightening campaign finance law under my most recent attempt at following campaign money trails. After I typed my response, I'm thinking it's a good top level discussion.

What form should campaign finance reform take this next session?

Secretary of State Chris Nelson weighed in recently at the Argus Leader. Here's what he thought would be good:

"Over the years, a number of legislators and others have tried to change our campaign finance laws, but none of that has gone anywhere," Nelson said. "I had the feeling by early summer that there was enough concern across the state that the time was right to look at the issue."

He said he hasn't finished the details of the bill. It generally will deal with:

  • Greater clarity in who and what groups must file financial reports.
  • Whether contribution limits for individuals or groups should be set or changed. Currently, contributions to candidates are capped but contributions to political action committees, for example, are not.
  • Requiring a financial report from groups that organize and carry out petition drives to place issues on the ballot. Currently, reporting requirements don't begin until an issue has been OK'd for the ballot.
  • Requiring legislative candidates to file pre-election finance reports. Reports aren't required of general-election candidates for the Legislature until the end of the year, too late to let people see how much those candidates received and spent.
  • Civil penalties for failing to file reports. Failure to file is a misdemeanor, Nelson said, but criminal charges for late filing are rare to nonexistent. Nelson thinks a per-day fine would make candidates and groups take the filing requirements more seriously.

    "My goal would be to never collect a penalty but to have the reports filed on time," Nelson said. "What we're trying to do is assure that there is disclosure of information for citizens in a timely manner."
  • Read it all here. Good ideas. Where do I fall in on all of this? Not that you care, but it's a good jumping off point for discussion:
    I'd like to see higher personal limits on races. ($1000 legislative, $5000 state races).

    I'd like to at least place some moderation on using PACS as a vehicle to avoid campaign finance limits, by possibly limiting the amount individuals can contribute. I would think a $5-10,000 aggregate yearly total limit for State PACS per person is entirely reasonable, as it isn't likely to limit the activities of the common man, but it will keep single individuals from buying elections.

    I think reporting should be earlier and with no loopholes for associations and corporations. I'd also like to see another reporting interval in there during election years. Such as adding the first of October to the one 2 weeks out and end of year.

    I'd also like to see a 24 hour notice to the Secretary of State whenever funds are transferred between PACS.

    And yes, we should finally have a penalty of some sort for failure to file on a timely basis. Given the number of zero filers, I think it could be based on a percentage of what you're reporting as received.
    Now, these aren't tough guidelines. In fact, they're pretty darn loose with high limits.

    Under this, you could still give a legislative candidate $6-11,000 between a personal donation and a PAC you set up to avoid the $1000 limit. And that would be it. Anyone else you'd give to would be limited to the $1000. The point would be to keep from encouraging single individuals from abusing and prostituting the system as has taken place over the past few cycles.

    One commenter noted that it should be more about reporting than limits. And I'd agree to a point. Raise the ceiling where it exists, and install a high one where it doesn't. But most importantly, make sure it's nice and bright so you can see what's going on.

    It's not directly campaign finance related, but I'd also throw in that paid petition circulators need to go, because it should be about the idea, not A buck or two per signature.

    What are your ideas and thoughts on this?


    Anonymous said…
    I agree with the idea that it is more about reporting than limits. Heck, if somebody wants to give more than the limit, they can give money to somebody else who can then make the contribution. I think what's important is who is giving the money, not how much. I want to know who is supporting somebody before I vote for him/her.
    Anonymous said…
    I agree with anon 8:07. To have true reform you must have transparency. I am most concerned about where the money comes from. I have watched this issue at the State and National level for the last 15 years. Every major change has only benefitted those in office.
    It is time for a major overhaul. Maybe it is time for an intiative. I suspect it would be easy to get it on the ballot. Just ask people if they favor campaign finance reform and full disclosure.
    In today's computer age, the reporting can be instant. The penalties can be civil. And any candidate who fails to follow the rules gives up his/her seat.
    Anonymous said…
    I am in favor of NO LIMITS but INSTANT REPORTING. Require that candidates report contributions once a week - set up a way that they can enter them online themselves. This removes the need for PACs to launder money. It allows unlimited donations, but lets everyone know who is giving to who. The voters can decide if they want a candidate who has been "bought and paid for" by a bearded Rapid City senior citizen engineer (for example).
    Anonymous said…
    I like 8:45's instance reporting idea, but, not sure it's practical in lower buget down-ticket races. At the very least, a more campaign milestone-oriented approach should be considered. Rather than based on the calendar month, reporting dates should work from election day back and reporting dates should perhaps be more frequent as election day approaches.

    For example, a system with monthly reporting throughout the year and then have reports due, 90, 60, 45, 30, 15 and 5 days prior to election day may be an alternative to real-time reporting. Would avoid something like the $750k surprise on 6 only being reported a couple days prior to the election when the money had long been spent.

    The penalties must be real also, $5,000 or so for a late filing.
    Anonymous said…
    Instant reporting would be easy. Even the small candidates have access to the internet. The state already has a system that allows for filing of sales tax and unemployment tax returns on line.
    Anonymous said…
    Instant reporting could be easily done over the internet. Even if the candidate cannot figure it out, the 12-year-old neighbor kid can do it for him.
    Anonymous said…
    Any reform must include reporting requirments for slush funds like the Governor's club.
    PP said…
    And 10:08, it IS reported. It's just not broken out from other donations.
    Anonymous said…
    I like all of Chris Nelson's ideas. I would like PAC's done away with, however; they are just a way to skirt the law anyway. And limit the length of campaigns. Signs can't go up until a certain time before an election in many places, and campaigns could be handled the same way. That way they wouldn't be so expensive.
    Anonymous said…
    Good post, PP. I shared your thoughts with my friend Jody Severson at Focus SD and he sent this back. See you at the coffee party!



    I agree with all of this, but much of it just amounts to more paperwork.a major contributor will have to set up 25 PACS. It will take his secretary most of an afternoon.

    Ask Pat what he thinks about closing down the Governor's Club and also what he thinks about contribution limits to parties and limits on what
    parties can give to candidates. That's another loophole he left open.

    But I think we're largely in agreement. In fact, I've been thinking of putting a similar measure applied to city hall races on the June ballot, smoke out hidden contributors and candidates who have taken their money. It would help level the playing field.

    In Nebraska in 1992 when we worked the Governor's race (Bob Kerrey), there were no dollar limits and corporate money could go directly to
    candidates, but here's the catch. Every penny of income AND outgo by the campaigns was independently audited. That is, the state actively
    collected samples of mailings, newspaper ad clips, and broadcast buys and compared them to what the candidates reported. They'd either have to
    be in balance or there had better be a good explanation for the difference. For months after that campaign, the auditors were sending inquiries about how many copies of this or that mailing went out and what they cost. They weren't haggling down to the nickel but did want to make sure it was pretty close. I haven't worked a non-federal race
    in Nebraska for some time, so I don't know if they've changed this.

    In SD, the Secretary of State merely scans the reports for egregious violations before posting and filing the reports. In Nebraska they made independently sure that what you said was what actually happened.

    One other loophole -- the "event." Pat and I can meet with Fleming over coffee. We call it a coffee party. One of us puts $10,000 in the hat. We report it as proceeds of the Powers coffee party. Legal.

    Does PP want to put limits on corporate contributions to ballot campaigns, too? I do.

    Ask PP to total up what the state dems (non federal) spent versus what state Republicans spent and see if he still wants to clamp down. If so, tell him we'd be happy to help.

    Refer to as much of the above as you wish from coming to me and tell him he still owes me a cup of coffee. We will not solicit donations at that event.


    PS. Is PP also going to limit how much money Steve Kirby's brother can give in the Kirby vs. Schoenbeck primary in '08? Will he limit how much
    Kirby can spend on his own race?

    PPS. Should blogs or websites or email blasts produced by known activists or generally favoring a particular point of view be required
    to report as third party or in-kind contributions, particularly when they're used to float attack garbage against or in favor of candidates?
    Douglas said…
    Would judges doing the work of another judge so he/she/it can take time to campaign be considered "in kind contributions?.

    Should public or quasi public groups that get government grants be allowed to contribute to poltical candidates whether or not they run as Democrats, Republicans, or in non-partisan races?

    There should be something like those swimming pool fundraiser thermometers in the capitol during legislative sessions with the daily lobbyist expenditures and fees.
    Anonymous said…
    douglas, I thought nobody knew what "quasi" meant?

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