SuperPAC Disclosure Bill Clears Legislative Committee
- pam wilmot
Common Cause Calls Legislation One of the Strongest Disclosure Laws in the Country
The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws last night released cutting edge legislation to require real-time disclosure of donors to SuperPACs and other groups that would shed light on the huge influx of money expected in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
“The public is very concerned about big money and secret or ‘dark’ money in politics and wants it out of our elections,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, who worked with the Committee to help draft the bill. “Thanks to Citizens United and other Supreme Court rulings, Super PACs can accept unlimited campaign cash from individuals, unions and corporations. As a result, average citizens’ voices are drowned out by an increasingly large flood of money from ultra-wealthy donors and special interests. This bill will close loopholes in the law that allow for so much of this money to come from secret sources. If passed, it will be one of the strongest disclosure laws in the country.”
The first negative TV attack ad of the 2014 state election season was aired in late April. But under Massachusetts’ current law, disclosure of who contributed the money to pay for the ad is not required until eight days before the primary election and again eight days before the general election. That means voters remain largely in the dark about who is funding political ads until just before the election. The MA Disclosure legislation would require donor disclosure within 7 days of running an ad. It would also require that top donors over $5000 be listed in the ad itself.
“Full disclosure is all the more important when the group has an innocuous name and no public history, but springs up out of thin air to support a specific candidate in a specific race and then dissolves just as quickly as it was formed, “ added Wilmot.
Shortcomings in the current disclosure law were clearly exposed by the One Boston Super PAC which dropped a $500,000 ad buy in the week before the 2013 Boston mayoral election. On Election Day, the public and mayoral candidates had no idea which interests were financing One Boston. Only a month or so after all the votes had been tallied did media reports reveal that One Boston is a subsidiary of the American Federation of Teachers. Current campaign finance filings still list the sole donor of One Boston as One New Jersey.
“Massachusetts will be facing a tidal wave of money from SuperPACs and other similar organizations in the 2014 governor’s race,” predicted Wilmot. To date, Super PACs such as Massachusetts Forward Together, Commonwealth Future, and Mass Independent have filed organizational papers with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Voters won’t know which individuals and special interests are funding these groups until the first week of September.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Wilmot. “The bill released by the Election Laws Committee would require real-time disclosure of Super PAC donors and expenditures and close other loopholes in the law that allow groups to evade disclosure. But the clock is ticking and the legislature needs to act quickly in order to get the law updated for the fall election.”
In 2012, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a similar disclosure bill, but it was never brought up in the House.