By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- The Senate unanimously passed campaign finance legislation Wednesday that forces more disclosures from super PACs, an attempt to increase transparency in campaign spending in the post-Citizens United era.
The legislation also increases the individual campaign contribution limit from $500 to $1,000. Since the $500 limit was set in 1994, it makes sense to increase it to reflect inflation and the rising cost of campaigns, Sen. Barry Finegold said before the bill passed 38 to 0. The contribution limit change will not take effect until January.
Finegold, a Democrat from Andover, said the majority of the campaign finance law reforms in the bill concern super PACs, which are independent expenditure committees allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.
The bill (S 2264) requires super PACs to disclose the sources of their funding within seven days of making an expenditure. That disclosure window would shrink to 24 hours starting 10 days before a primary or general election.
The House passed a similar bill in June.
With the legislation, lawmakers said they were trying to address some of the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. The free-speech 5-4 ruling in January 2010 opened the floodgates for super PACs to accept unlimited donations from unions and corporations, as well as wealthy individuals, to influence elections.
Critics of the ruling say it gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums of money on ads to try to elect or defeat individual candidates.
Under the legislation passed Wednesday, if a super PAC runs a television, internet or print advertisement, the commercial will have to list the top five donors who contributed to the advertisement and direct viewers to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance website where they can access full donor lists.
The bill also requires all mayoral candidates, regardless of the population of the city, to file financial disclosures with OCPF, and allows statewide candidates to make political contributions to legislative campaigns, Finegold said.
Sen. Bruce Tarr attempted to make changes around organizations that contribute to campaigns, but are subject to higher contribution limits. Under current law, any political action committee that raises money for political purposes is subject to the $500 contribution limit. But an organization, association, union or other 501-c3 tax exempt organization that does not raise money for the express purpose of spending on a campaign can donate up to $15,000 to one or more candidates, according to Tarr.
Tarr called it a "loophole" in the law that needs to be fixed because it has created an unjustifiable distinction between organizations that are contributing to political campaigns.
He ticked off a list of people and organizations that are subject to contribution limits - such as George Soros, a well-known supporter of progressive liberal political causes, and the MoveOn organization, a liberal public policy political organization. He went on to detail some who can give up to $15,000 to a single candidate, including Republican strategist Carl Rove, American's for Prosperity, and the American Petroleum Institute.
Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, and other senators, argued the amendment was an attack on unions by attempting to diminish their power in the political process, but Tarr noted that unions were free to set up a PAC, and many do.
Donnelly, a Democrat from Arlington, said wealthy donors find it easy to write checks for thousands of dollars, while working class individuals cannot scrap together money to donate to campaigns and have their voices heard in the political process through unions.
"We know what this is all about. There is a national strategy to make sure we take unions out of the process," Donnelly said.
Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) said the amendment would hurt lower-income families and target the "politics of how lawmakers move forward on working-class family issues." Union members have an opportunity to have their voice heard with the current rule, called the 10-15 rule, Pacheco said.
"The so-called 10-15 rule empowers working families who are members of unions so they can have just a little bit of a shot to try to come maybe half way to where those who can collect $1,000 contributions," he said.
Tarr said the amendment was not aimed at unions, but any organization that is not subject to the contribution limit. He also said organized labor would not be left out without options because they could form a political action committee.
"This isn't about leaving folks with no voice or no ability. It is about eliminating a loophole," he said.
The amendment failed 28 to 10.