Secretary of State
Campaign Finance Legislation Receives Senate Committee Approval for Third Time
(Frankfort, KY) As has been the case for the last several years, the Campaign Disclosure Project recently downgraded Kentucky in its annual ranking of states with the best campaign finance laws. Kentucky has failed to follow the rest of the country and move to more transparent and accessible campaign finance filings. All that would change under Senate Bill 62, sponsored by Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), which passed unanimously out of the Kentucky Senate State and Local Government Committee today.
As recently as 2004, Kentucky ranked in the top-10 in the country by the Campaign Disclosure Project, but it has now fallen to 21st in the national rankings. According to the Campaign Finance Institute, 30 of the 50 states, including all of Kentucky’s surrounding states, require electronic disclosure of some candidates’ campaign finance reports. Twenty-four of the 30 require statewide and legislative candidates to file electronically. Because Kentucky does not require electronic disclosure, the state received an “F” in the electronic filing program score that the Disclosure Project issued. Consistently, electronic disclosure has been called Kentucky’s “weak point.”
Thayer, who serves as chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which handles such legislation, has shepherded the bill through the legislative process before. Senate Bill 159 and Senate Bill 8 passed the Kentucky State Senate during the 2007 and 2008 regular sessions of the General Assembly, respectively, but failed to receive a vote on the floor in the House of Representatives. Secretary of State Trey Grayson, Kentucky’s Chief Election Official, and Senator Thayer are hopeful that this session will be different.
“Transparency in government is not something on which we will give up,” noted Grayson. “It is past time for the General Assembly to act on this legislation which represents the most comprehensive and significant proposal in years to increase the transparency of the elections process in our Commonwealth.
“There is a cooperative spirit in Frankfort, and I am optimistic that we can get an agreement on this legislation in 2009,” said Senator Thayer. “Kentuckians deserve a campaign finance system where transparency and access to financial information allow citizens to keep candidates and elected officials accountable for their campaign fundraising. This legislation not only strengthens transparency and access, but also emphatically states that they are priorities of Kentucky.”
The bill calls for a number of recommendations from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) Task Force which issued a report to the General Assembly nearly two years ago. The task force featured bi-partisan representation from a variety of election related parties and included Secretary Grayson. The task force met for eight months and had over 20 hours of public debate before it made its recommendations. Two of the task force’s top priorities, increased reporting and more electronic filing of reports, are major components of the proposed legislation.
“Kentucky needs to regain its status as a national leader in campaign disclosure,” said Senator Thayer. “We have studied this issue in depth for the last several sessions, and it is time we pass this legislation in order to further improve Kentucky’s lauded elections process.”
The bill calls for increased reporting by adding an additional report due sixty days before primary elections for statewide elected officials, as well as an additional report due sixty days before general elections for all candidates. It also requires all statewide candidates to file their reports to the KREF electronically, a change from previous versions of the bill which required all candidates raising over $25,000 or more in a cycle to file electronically.
“Clearly, Kentucky’s Achilles heel in campaign disclosure is mandatory electronic filing; however, we have to be realistic,” noted Secretary Grayson. “Many members of the House had problems with the provision requiring all candidates who raise $25,000 or more in a cycle to file electronically. Although this is something we strongly believe is necessary, we cannot let perfect become the enemy of good. We must move this legislation forward,” said Grayson.
Kentucky’s existing election finance laws have been challenged by observers and participants of the system as confusing, lengthy, and legally problematic. A recent series of legal challenges invalidated several portions of the existing election finance statutes. Senator Thayer's legislation addresses many changes in election laws that resulted from those decisions.
“Senator Thayer has been a tireless advocate for this important legislation,” remarked Secretary Grayson. “I am hopeful that the legislature will follow his leadership and pass this bill expeditiously.”
Craig Dilger, Chair of the Registry of Election Finance, the agency charged with enforcement of Kentucky’s campaign finance laws, applauded Senator Thayer’s efforts to move Kentucky’s campaign finance laws into the 21st century. Noting that many of the changes proposed in the legislation are the result of careful study by legislative committees following a 2005 final report issued by the KREF’s Advisory Task Force, Dilger predicted the legislation will receive serious attention this session.
"The Registry is committed to maintaining a fair and level playing field in the political process in Kentucky. For that to happen, we must continually update and refine our election finance laws. Senate Bill 62 will give the Registry the tools it needs to maintain that balance. I join Secretary of State Grayson and Senator Thayer in urging the legislature to support this bill and work for its passage."
Secretary Grayson and Senator Thayer have effectively worked to enact other major election reform legislation. In 2005, they successfully advocated for the repeal of the ill-advised and failed taxpayer-funded political campaign legislation of 1992, and in last year’s session, they led the fight to repeal Kentucky’s unpopular gubernatorial runoff provision.
For more information about the 2005 Registry Task Force recommendations, please visit: http://www.kref.ky.gov/otheritems.htm.
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