Electioneering Reform Is Long Overdue

Electioneering reform is long overdue

Apr. 5, 2012 | News Journal

Delaware’s election laws are finally waking up to the Internet age.

A proposed elections disclosure bill will require those responsible for third-party spending in campaigns to promptly report during election season. That would include what Gov. Jack Markell’s office calls “electioneering communications” close to the day people actually vote.

This would be the first update of the campaign finance laws since 1990 — a time before Internet connections, social media, targeted robo calls and other computer-aided election wizardry.

Campaign spending by third-party groups has gained a lot of attention since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision.

Currently, the act allows anonymous political action committees and individuals to broadcast commercials and publish literature too late for voters to fact-check their accuracy.

At least now, such spending in Delaware will have to be reported promptly.

In a good sign, the proposal has been endorsed by House Speaker Robert F. Gilligan, Senate President Pro Tem Anthony J. DeLuca and Gov. Markell.

What Senate Pro Tem DeLuca rightly calls some of the most damning attacks ads from PACs and other outside groups is a dangerous unearned right of electioneering by unchecked anonymity.

If passed, the changes would:‘ Require any person (other than a candidate or political party) who spends $500 or more on campaign ads during an election period to file a disclosure report within 24 hours.

‘ Require all third-party ads with a fair market value of $500 or more to include the following statement: “Learn more about [name of person] at [Commissioner of Elections’ web address].”

‘ Require identification of a “responsible party” for large contributions by PACs, corporations and other entities.

A companion bill would increase the penalties for filing late reports from $50 per month to $50 per day.

It can’t be ignored that Rep. Gilligan, Sen. Deluca and the governor are the state’s leading Democrats.

However, this is of such consequence that hopefully House and Senate Republicans and other Democrats will push for its passage and make constructive contributions.

Unfortunately, the proposed changes will not become effective for the coming elections.

System upgrades, publication of new regulations governing the disclosures, electronic filing requirements and procedures for eliminating duplicate paperwork are necessary delays that will make the changes effective in 2013.

But this effort is worth it. We hope it gets a speedy passage.