WG/Strategies/Ideas/Campaign Finance Legislation
Discuss these bills by editing the Discussion tab at the top of the page. "MGL" below means Massachusetts General Law. MGL Chapter 55 covers state campaign finance law; Chapter 156A covers corporations that are subject to Massachusetts law.
Disclosure. This bill requires corporations to notify their shareholders when making independent expenditures. The top five individuals or entities that donated must say their names and addresses during the advertisement. Bans foreign entities from making expenditures.
Senate Bill 304 will address the problems created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC by requiring new levels of disclosure and transparency for corporate political spending and prohibiting foreign corporations from influencing elections in Massachusetts.
Last session the Massachusetts Legislature passed a precursor in the budget, subjecting corporate-sponsored political advertising to the same disclosure laws that apply to other political spending. The budget requires corporate CEOs to appear in their companies' ads, saying they approved the message. This was a good first step, but more should be done to ensure continued transparency in political campaign spending. S304 would significantly broaden the entities required to file and its companion bill, S305 (below,) would expand the information included in campaign finance filing.
S304 broadens the definitions covered by existing state campaign finance disclosure laws (MGL Chapter 55 Section 1) in three ways:
- includes corporations and labor unions;
- defines "political committee" as any group handling over $10,000 per year on electioneering communication;
- defines expenditure to include any value directly or indirectly used to pay for electioneering communication.
These changes subject corporations to reporting requirements under MGL Chapter 55 Sections 18A, 18C and 18F.
S304 changes MGL Chapter 55 by requiring that:
- current disclosure and reporting requirements apply to all political communications;
- corporations and labor unions must disclose their political spending even if resulting advertisements are created by another group;
- any group paying for political ads must report on funds they receive;
- large amounts of political advertising require an organization to register as a political committee;
- political advertisements must identify their top contributors over $1,000 (Section 8G);
- candidates cannot coordinate with outside political advertisers;
- staff who worked for the candidate within the last six months cannot work for independent political advertisers (Section 18G);
- foreign nationals and corporations that are even partially owned by foreign nationals cannot contribute or advertise about candidates, elections or any question to come before the voters (new Section 18B.)
Senate Bill 305 would require corporations spending general treasury funds on political advertisements to:
- notify shareholders of those expenditures in quarterly reports (Section 8A);
- get approval from their Board of Directors or Executive Committee (Section 54A.)
S305 adds Section 8A to MGL Chapter 156B defining reporting requirements:
- "political activity" includes any contribution, expenditure, independent expenditure or electioneering communication except lobbying or internal communication with stockholders or staff;
- quarterly reports must be signed by the treasurer under penalty for perjury, and must be posted on the organization's website for at least one year;
- quarterly reports will include the date, amount and purpose of any political activity and the identity of any candidate referred to.
Section 54A, added by S305, specifies penalties for not obtaining Board approval prior to political advertising:
- fine against the organization of up to $1,000;
- fine against an individual (whether an agent of the corporation or not) of up to $1,000 and/or 1 year prison.
This bill was heard by the Joint Committee on Election Laws on October 19, after being referred to the committee in January, 2011. The next step for this bill is for the committee chairman Michael Moran (representing Brookline & Brighton) to call a vote to release it to the House floor. The Senate would also have to act in this process.
Senate Bill 308 would establish an optional public matching campaign finance system for state legislature candidates, reducing the burden of time they must spend fund-raising, and helping ensure that elected officials are politically indebted to the people rather than to big-dollar donors.
This bill prohibits public employees from soliciting or receiving gifts while in service.
This bill requires disclosure from candidates on expenditures related to issue-specific electioneering communications.
Senate Bill 1577 would reduce the influence of special interest money through campaign finance restrictions which eliminate "pay to play" opportunities for two key groups with business before the state: lobbyists and state contractors.
This bill sets limits on individual contributions made to candidates and political parties, but not ballot questions.
Senate Bill 772, introduced by Sen. Jamie Eldridge (Shirley, Ayer) would call for the US Congress to initiate a Constitutional Amendment "to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people." This is intended to counteract the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns. Petitioners are: James B. Eldridge, Stanley C. Rosenberg, Sarah K. Peake, William ". Pignatelli, Cleon H. Turner, Paul Mark, Peter V. Kocot, James J. O'Day, Daniel A. Wolf, Timothy R. Madden, Jonathan Hecht, Katherine M. Clark, Kay Khan, Cory Atkins. This is with the Judiciary Committee, which would need to vote to approve and release it to the floor for a general vote.
Vermont and Washington have already proposed legislation calling Congress to pass an amendment to counter the Citizens United ruling, a route described below under the heading Federal - Proposed Laws. Vermont's proposed bill states:
- "Resolved...that the General Assembly urges Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution for states' consideration which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States or any of its jurisdictional subdivisions...."
Rhode Island proposed a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention "to consider amendments to reverse the Supreme Court's decision" and limited to considering amendments referenced by at least 40% of the states (to avoid a runaway convention.)
None of these bills specify wording for the actual amendment, which is up to Congress or the Convention.
Other Reforms to Think About
Insider Trading Prevent elected officials and public employees from using their position to trade on insider information. "Throw Them All Out" is a new book illustrating this problem. Congress should have to follow the same rules as Martha Stewart and everyone else.
Anti Lobbying Laws Occupy LA influencedthe passing of a bill which prohibits lobbyists from doing business on public property.
No Bail Out Money Suggested by Matt Tahibi of Rolling Stone: if your corporation received a bail put or any kind of government assistance you are not allowed to turn around and use that money to lobby Congress.
No Special Benefits Congress should not receive any benefits that aren't available to the general public. If we don't have a public health care option, neither should they
Post Service Employment Prohibit elected officials and public servants from taking jobs in industries they are supposed to be regulating for four years after their last day in office.
Massachusetts has a public financing system that I do not entirely understand.
A pdf of contribution limits: File:Contribution table.pdf
Scn 55:6A limits Political Action Committee contributions to candidates as follows:
- governor $150,000;
- lieutenant governor $31,250;
- attorney general $62,500;
- state secretary, treasurer or auditor $37,500;
- state senator & various others $18,750;
- state representative $7,500.
Scn 55:7 puts similar restrictions on loans that a candidate may make to his/her candidate committee. It also limits donations by individuals to $500/year to each candidate (or $25/year for a donor less than 18 years old,) adding up to less than $12,500 in one year to all candidates. There is no limit on an individual's contribution to ballot question committees.
Scn 55:8 prohibits campaign or political contributions by businesses or majority stockholders in listed industries that might benefit from state actions. Media offering free time to one candidate must make equivalent time available to competing candidates.
Scn 55:18G requires radio, TV or internet campaign advertising to disclose who paid for the announcement. Violation is punishable for $10,000 fine and/or a year in prison.
Scn 55:22 requires reporting of all contributions to affect the vote on "any question submitted to the voters," except by qualified political committees.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution defines two routes for amending the Constitution:
- Congress passes an amendment by a 2/3 majority and then sends it to the states for ratification;
- 2/3 of the states call for a Constitutional Convention.
The result of either option 1 or 2 must then be ratified by 3/4 of the states in order to be enacted. Altogether, this process can take 7 years to succeed.
A Constitutional Convention might consider any number of changes that are hard to foresee or control. Some advisors warn about the uncontrollable risk of a runaway convention and therefore recommend pressing Congress to pass a specific amendment.
If enough states pass bills calling for Congress to write an amendment, Congress will feel pressured into action. See the section above on Massachusetts proposed legislation for discussion of this route.