Common Cause 2015 Testimony in Support of Enhancing the Massachusetts Disclosure Act

November 17, 2015

Testimony In Support of

H.543 and H.548

Enhancing the Massachusetts Disclosure Act

Pamela H. Wilmot, Executive Director, Common Cause Massachusetts

Joint Committee on Election Laws

November 17th, 2015

The legislature made great progress towards achieving transparency and accountability in campaign financing by passing the Massachusetts Disclosure Act in 2014. This law greatly increased the information about outside political advertisements and the donors and organizations behind them. Key provisions of it include:

  • Requiring organizations to list their top five contributors in TV or print advertisements.
  • Requiring municipal SuperPACs disclose their donors within 7 days of running a paid advertisement, rather than after the election as before the new law.
  • Giving enforcement agencies clearer authority to regulate funds funneled through intermediary groups by corporations, organizations, and individuals to avoid disclosure.
  • Requiring the disclosure of Internet and email advertisement electioneering communications.

A soon to be released study by Common Cause will show that the new law has been quite effective. However, loopholes in the law are being exploited and at least one organization is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in Massachusetts elections without reporting a single donor. H.543 and H.548, sponsored by Representative Bradley and Representative Cutler respectively, address this problem in two different, but potentially complimentary ways. Common Cause Massachusetts supports both of these pieces of legislation and ask you to give them a favorable report.

The first loophole in the 2014 law is in the Top 5 Donor Disclosure Requirement, which mandates that the 5 largest contributors to an independent expenditure organization be disclosed directly on TV, radio, and internet advertisements. This had a great effect in increasing the accessibility of the financial information to voters who receive these advertisements. However, the language does not include mailings and billboards among the kinds of ads where Top 5 Donor Disclosure is required, despite their common usage by campaigns. Organizations that wished to keep their donors secret were therefore able to avoid disclosure by only using the excluded techniques for their messaging.

H.543 expands the top five donor requirement to include both mailings and billboards. It would therefore capture the organizations that previously evaded disclosure The bill would increase the accessibility of donor information directly to voters by allowing them to see the largest contributors behind the advertisements they get in their mailbox or see on signs, as well as those on TV and in the newspaper. H.543 was a recommendation of the Campaign Finance Task Force created by the 2014 Disclosure Law. The taskforce consisted of representatives of the Speaker, the Senate President, both minority Leaders, the director of OCPF, and myself.

The second loophole in the law is language that only requires groups making electioneering communications to report their donors to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance if they solicit money “for the purpose of making an electioneering communication.” Because of this, groups have carefully tailored their fundraising appeals to avoid explicitly raising money for electioneering communications. If they are careful, they are not required to disclose their donors, even if all of the funds raised are ultimately used for electioneering communication purposes. Organizations that want to make electioneering communications but keep their donors secret are therefore able to do so by not stating their intentions in their fundraising solicitations.

H.548 is more comprehensive because it would require groups that make $250 worth of electioneering communications to report all of their contributors. It changes the law to make disclosure contingent on spending money on electioneering, rather than what was said at the time of solicitation. This measure would require the disclosure of many more donors than the top 5 donors required by H.543.

Disclosure Laws are essential for informing voters, deterring actual corruption and the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the public, facilitating investigations into violations of campaign finance laws by providing necessary data, and empowering shareholders and consumers to hold corporations and other private groups accountable for political activities. The legislature made great progress furthering the goals of such transparency and accountability last year, and can now build on this achievement by passing H.543 and H.548 in the current session.

I hope you will support these pieces of legislation and give them a favorable report.

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