PUBLIC HEARING of the
JOINT COMMITTEE on ELECTION LAWS
Testimony of Common Cause Massachusetts
By Pam Wilmot, Executive Director
November 17th, 2015
The following is a copy of our ominbus testimony with brief descriptions of our position on each of the various bills pending before the MA Joint Committee on Election Laws.
H.543 & H.548—Support
See separate testimony.
This legislation would add greater transparency to elections by requiring more detailed reporting of the candidate supported or opposed by a particular expenditure. This reflects current guidance by OCPF and was a unanimous recommendation of the Campaign Finance Task Force established by the Massachusetts Disclosure Law passed in 2014. The taskforce consisted of representatives of the Speaker, the Senate President, both minority Leaders, the director of OCPF, and myself.
This legislation requires corporations engaging in political activity to notify their shareholders in writing and requires corporations to gain approval from its board of director’s before making political expenditures over $5,000. This would empower shareholders to hold corporations accountable for political activities. In 2010, proper disclosure requirements allowed shareholders of Target, Best Buy and 3M to hold these corporations accountable for political spending in a highly publicized gubernatorial race in Minnesota.
Similar to H.537, this legislation is more restrictive. It requires corporations engaging in political activity to get prior approval of their shareholders before a corporation may make political expenditures. This would empower shareholders to hold corporations accountable for political activities.
This bill would increase the campaign contribution limit to political parties to $10,000. Higher campaign contribution limits benefit the small percentage of the population with enough disposable income to contribute at that level. Larger donations are most often given by interests that seek access and influence in government. In either case, higher limits increase the power and prestige of monied interests and leave average citizens with a muffled voice.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states may not limit contributions in any way to ballot question committees.
H.542 & S.390—Support
Redefines calendar year for those years in which both a special election and a general election occur. Currently, a candidate facing two separate election cycles in one year suffers significantly compared to those with only one. These bills are the minimum adjustment needed. H.542 was a recommendation of the Campaign Finance Task Force that was established by the Massachusetts Disclosure Law passed in 2014. The taskforce consisted of representatives of the Speaker, the Senate President, both minority Leaders, the director of OCPF, and myself. All members agreed that this was a good idea.
The vast majority of states and the federal government have contribution limits based on an election or election cycle, which is a much fairer system. While the calendar year limits we have are easily understood, they do discriminate against candidates who get into the election cycle later in the game, especially for statewide, city, and county offices with longer terms.
The voters who supported -- and continue to support according to national polls -- the concept of public financing of elections know that it is our best chance to level the political playing field between candidates with personal wealth, or connections to it, and those without significant resources. It will also significantly reduce the influence of money in campaigns for public office and increase competition in legislative elections
S.380 provides qualifying legislative candidates with public financing, on a three to one matching basis. It does not exclude private fundraising but rewards small dollar in-district contributions. It allows candidates to spend less time fundraising and changes the nature of political fundraising to prioritize small contributions from voters. In reducing the barriers to political involvement, it would encourage a wider range of candidates to participate in the electoral process, especially women and minorities. Finally, by decreasing the influence of money, it removes the questions that voters inevitably have about the independence of elected officials who raise money from special interests.
This bill proposes to repeal the matching funds program for statewide candidates. Common Cause opposes any effort to roll back public financing reforms that are meant to level the political playing field for all candidates, increase electoral competition, and reduce the influence of money in politics.
The legislature should seek to increase disclosure of campaign finance, including the frequency of reporting, as required by S.376, as long as it is not overly burdensome for candidates, especially candidates who do not raise a lot of money. To this end, candidates for state representative and senate could use the “depository” system like statewide candidates which places the burden of disclosure reports on the bank rather than on the candidate.
We support the intent of this legislation, which is to overturn OCPF’s 10/15 rule, their regulatory decision that allows unions to make direct contributions to candidates in amounts up to 10% of their general treasury or $15,000, whichever comes first. However, an amendment is needed to account for chapters or locals within organizations.
This bill would allow corporations to make campaign contributions directly to candidates. Direct contributions from corporations to candidates has been banned in Massachusetts for nearly 100 years and with good reason. Corporations can amass more money than any other entity and have a fiduciary responsibility to their business purpose rather than the public interest. There is already enough money in politics, we do not need more.