(Sacramento, CA) The California-based Campaign Disclosure Project released its annual survey rankings of states’ efforts to bring sunlight to political money, and the results were not encouraging for Kentucky. For the third straight year, Kentucky dropped in the national rankings. As recently as 2004, Kentucky ranked in the top-10 in the country by this organization, but it has now fallen to 21st in the national rankings.
The evaluation specifically cited State Sen. Damon Thayer’s (R-Georgetown) legislation from the 2007 and 2008 Sessions of the General Assembly in its report as a way to address this decline. Senator Thayer’s legislation has twice died in the House of Representatives after nearly unanimous passage in the Senate. The Campaign Finance legislation has been a top legislative priority for Secretary of State Trey Grayson over the last several years.
“This report reinforces the need for the Kentucky Legislature to pass meaningful campaign finance legislation, such as Senator Thayer’s past bills, because it requires most candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically – something the report notes is a needed change for Kentucky to maintain its status as a leader in campaign disclosure,” stated Secretary Grayson. “Kentuckians deserve a system where they can access campaign finance information in the hassle-free and efficient format that electronic filing provides.”
According to the Campaign Finance Institute, 30 of the 50 states require electronic disclosure of some candidates’ campaign finance reports, including all of Kentucky’s surrounding states. 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.” It did note, however, that the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) does an excellent job of promoting electronic filing to candidates and provides many resources to help filers through the process.
“Clearly, Kentucky’s Achilles heel in campaign disclosure is mandatory electronic filing,” noted Secretary Grayson. “It is time that Kentucky join the rest of our surrounding states, and the majority of states in the United States, and require mandatory filing to bring greater accountability and transparency to Kentucky’s campaign finances.”
The news from the report was not all grim for Kentucky. Kentucky’s score did increase in 2008 thanks to the hard work of the KREF team who re-designed their website and made their disclosure database more accessible. Kentucky moved from a C+ to a B-.
“The work of the Registry’s staff should be commended, and I appreciate them making so much information available online as soon as possible,” said Grayson. “It is discouraging that the only improvement came from their work and not from changes enacted by the legislature. Kentucky still dropped one spot in the rankings with an improvement in our grade from a C+ to a B-; imagine what our ranking would be if it were not for their actions.”
Thayer’s bill called for a number of recommendations from the 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.
Grayson is calling on the Kentucky Legislature to take swift action on campaign finance legislation in the upcoming 2009 General Assembly session. “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,” Grayson said.
He also encouraged Kentucky’s top elected officials to rally behind this legislation. “Transparency is ‘all the buzz’ in Kentucky right now. I hope that Kentucky’s top legislative and executive branch officials will move beyond the rhetoric of wanting to make our government more transparent and ethical. Instead, they should join me in not only supporting legislation that would require it, but to actually work this legislation and see it to passage.” said Grayson. In addition, Grayson noted that during tight economic times, the money saved from having staff hand input data filed on paper, would allow the Registry to expand their services, notably disclosure services, without adding costs to taxpayers.
Grayson is a leading proponent of transparency in government. He recently launched the Check It Out Kentucky! initiative in order to bring greater accountability for government to all citizens of Kentucky. Included in this effort is an “online checkbook” for the Office of the Secretary of State, the first of its kind in Kentucky State Government, where you can search the spending of the Office of the Secretary of State. During his tenure, Grayson has also placed millions of documents online for instant constituent access and made numerous filings services available online so that government is accessible 24-hours a day.
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