With little public notice, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 221 today. The following testimony was provided to the Committee through a committee member. After the hearing, the bill was passed out of Committee on a 9-6 vote.
Testimony of Common Cause Executive Director Aunna Dennis on SB 221
Americans know that money has too much influence in our political system.
For more than 50 years, Common Cause has been at the forefront of the movement to rein in the power of big money in politics. That’s why I’m testifying today. Common Cause advocates for commonsense money in politics limits, including: meaningful contribution limits that prevent wealthy special interests from having undue influence on federal, state and local governments.
SB 221 would create a huge loophole in Georgia’s current campaign finance limits, by allowing unlimited donations to a new type of political committee — controlled by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and legislative leadership.
It would allow big corporations and out-of-state big money donors to buy our elections. This is yet another example of segregation politics in Georgia. This bill will segregate those with means from those without — and will lock people without means out of the political process.
In last year’s elections, private donors spent $24 million on GA House races and $12.5 million on GA Senate races – and that was with existing donation limits. This bill would allow unlimited donations – so who knows how much money special interests will be willing to “invest” in our elections?
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent through secret money groups, denying Americans their right to know who is funding political campaigns.
This bill does nothing to improve transparency. Dark money donors hide behind nonprofit organizations that are not required to reveal donor’ names. Then the money is given in the name of an organization, rather than under the real donor’s name.
SB 221 would allow those same dark money organizations to give unlimited amounts of money to Georgia’s top-ranking elected officials — still without disclosing their donors — by giving to Leadership committees instead of directly to campaigns.
The politicians running the leadership committees have broad latitude in deciding how to spend the money. They could use all the money to support a single candidate — for instance, Donald Trump — or they could use it to support many candidates. They can also use it for purposes related to their official duties.
These Leadership Committees will almost certainly become “slush funds,” where special interest dark money groups give unlimited amounts of money, and then one person or a few people decide what candidates to give it to, or how to spend it. And again, the actual donors’ names can remain hidden behind the name or the dark money organization.
Georgians deserve better than to have our elected officials putting themselves up for sale. We urge the Committee — and the full House — to vote down this bill.