Campaign Finance Reform
WorldPeace believes in moving toward a system of campaign finance whereby any and all contributions toward the election of a candidate become part of the public record. If the amount of contributions are public record, the public will be able to easily spot the potential influence on any politician. Election reform will not be easy because of the creative nature of human beings to find loop holes in the law. But over time, the present system can continue to move toward the democratic principle of one person, one vote.
WorldPeace supports the Reform Priorities of Campaigns for People: campaignsforpeople.org
Open Campaigns: First Priority for Texas Campaign Reform
Full and timely disclosure of all contributions and expenditures is the foundation of any successful system of campaign finance laws.
Campaigns for People, a non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted to Texas campaign and ethics reform, is leading an Open Campaigns initiative to help build that foundation for our state elections.
Current Texas disclosure laws are full of loopholes; Texas needs Open Campaigns legislation in 200l that enables voters to know the interests supporting each candidate before they vote.
Four primary reforms are needed to create open campaigns in Texas:
1. Require candidates to list the employer and occupation of large contributors.
2. Close the late reporting loophole that allows statewide candidates not to report contributions received in the 10 days before an election.
3. Remove the out-of-state PAC reporting exemption.
4. Enhanced civil and criminal penalties for failing to file timely and complete information are needed.
Here are the reasons for these reforms:
Employer and Occupation: This information is critical to seeing the economic interests behind individual contributions and it is a common requirement. The Federal government has required it for contributions of $200 or greater to federal candidates since 1975.
At least 29 states require employer and /or occupation to be reported. Even Texas has required this information for contributors over $50 to judicial candidates since 1995.
Some express concern that this requirement would be burdensome. Setting the reporting threshold for employer and occupation at $500 a year would not affect small contributors and would still capture 95% of the total contributions in Texas. As to concerns about privacy, anyone making a sizeable contribution to a candidate for public office that will be setting public policy should reasonably expect to have that information readily available to the public.
Late reporting: Currently, candidates for governor, other statewide offices, and county and local offices are not required to report their contributions in the last 10 days of an election until after the election. In contrast, candidates for the House-- who have much smaller campaigns than statewide candidates-- must report contributions over $200, and state Senate candidates must report contributions over $1000 during the last 10 days within 48 hours.
The State should require all candidates to collect and report all of their contributions 10 days before the election. Candidates can spend their funds any way they want in the last 10 days, but all contributions would have to be received and reported prior to that time. A similar law was upheld in the case of Gable v. Patton, 142F 3d 94 (6th Circuit 1998.)
Out-of-State PACs Report Like In-State PACs: In Texas, if a political action committee (PAC) is registered out of state, it is exempt from listing its contributors if 80% or more of its expenditures are out-of-state. This allows contributors to send donations to out-of-state PACs and then send the money back to Texas. The original source is then very difficult to trace. Most states require out-of-state PACs to list their donors just like in-state PACs.
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Enhanced Civil and Criminal Penalties: Texas now has minimal civil and criminal fines for failing to report timely and completely. The current civil fine for reporting late is up to a $100 a day; it is rarely imposed.
The civil fine should be changed to a minimum $100 a day fine if reports are not on file within 30 days of an election, $500 a day if the reports are not on file within 14 days of an election, and $1,000 a day if not filed within 7 days of the election. The maximum fine would be up to 3X the amount not reported, based on culpability and circumstances.
The current criminal penalty for knowingly failing to report is a Class C misdemeanor, with a top fine of $500 dollars. A knowing criminal violation should be changed to a Class B misdemeanor, with up to a $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail. If the person is intentionally evading disclosure, punishment should be a Class A misdemeanor (up to $4,000 fine and one year in jail).
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