Secretary of State
Senate Passes Much Needed Campaign Finance Legislation
(Frankfort, KY) Last year, Kentuckians got an up close view of why the General Assembly needs to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform. Interested citizens who wanted to know who financially supported candidates for Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, as well as all other state-wide elected constitutional officers had to wait until just one month before the election before campaign finance reports were filed by the candidates. In many instances, there was an even greater delay because the candidates did not file electronically, requiring the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance to hand-key in donor information further delaying the availability of the report online. All that would change under Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), which passed unanimously in the Kentucky State Senate today.
“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,” noted Grayson, the state’s Chief Election Official. “This bill served as a beacon of light onto how campaigns are funded in our Commonwealth, all the while providing the information in a hassle-free and efficient format for citizens.”
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 passed the Kentucky State Senate unanimously during the 2007 regular session of the General Assembly but failed to receive a vote on the floor in the House of Representatives.
“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,” said Senator Thayer. “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. The Campaign Disclosure Project, which has lowered Kentucky ten spots in its annual ranking of "States with the Best Campaign Finance Laws" over the last few years, specifically cited Kentucky’s lack of required electronic filing as a major reason for its downgrade. Kentucky scored an “F” for its low rate of electronic filing of fund-raising and spending reports.
“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 few 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 candidates who raise over $25,000 in one election cycle to file their reports to the KREF electronically.
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 House will follow Senator Thayer and the Senate’s 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 8 will give the Registry the tools it needs to maintain that balance. Senator Thayer and the Senate have moved these needed changes to the next step. I join Secretary of State Grayson in urging the House 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 June, they announced legislation to repeal the gubernatorial runoff.
For more information about the 2005 Registry Task Force recommendations, please visit: http://www.kref.ky.gov/otheritems.htm.
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