Ad donors may soon lose veil

Ad donors may soon lose veil

Democratic lawmakers plan bill requiring further disclosure

April 6, 2012 | Written by JONATHAN STARKEY

The News Journal

Gov. Jack Markell and leading Democratic state lawmakers are preparing to introduce legislation that will increase disclosure requirements for third-party advertising on behalf of candidates in Delaware elections.

The bill, which lawmakers said would be introduced later this month in the state House of Representatives, will target political action committees and individuals who spend more than $500 to buy newspaper, television or radio ads, or send out direct mailers that attack or endorse specific candidates.

The bill requires disclosure within 30 days of a primary election, and within 60 days of a general election.

Disclosures also must be filed within 24 hours of buying the advertisment.

The legislation would also require PACs or individuals to include a “paid for by” disclosure within the ad, and a reference to the the website for the Delaware Election Commissioner, where voters could access registration information.

Political committees and corporations making large donations — more than $1,200 in an election cycle — would also have to file the name and address for the person responsible for the donations. Third parties spend thousands in state elections each cycle, some of that on political advertising.

Without increased disclosure mandates, groups can take out ads anonymously, and state election officials have no way of determining where they came from, some contend.

Markell and members in the Democratic leadership in the Legislature said the bill would bring Delaware’s disclosure laws in line with recent court decisions that enabled a flood of campaign donations by individuals, corporations and unions.

John Flaherty, president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, praised the bill, which is also being supported by Common Cause Delaware, another open-government advocate and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s Law School.

House Speaker Robert Gilligan, D-Sherwood Park, and Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca, D-Varlano, are pushing the legislative effort.

“This will be a good opportunity to make change,” Flaherty said. “The best we can do with campaign spending is full disclosure right now.”

Republican leaders were briefed on the bill but had not seen the text by Thursday afternoon.

House Minority Leader Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said he wants to ensure that free-speech rights aren’t infringed upon by increasing disclosure requirements on political advertising.

He also suggested the bill could go further.

“If we’re going to do campaign finance [reform],” Lavelle said, “Let’s look at it comprehensively, across the board.”

Contact Jonathan Starkey at 324-2832, on Twitter @jwstarkey or at