A bill under consideration in the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee would set up disclosure requirements for election campaign phone calls, an area that state law does not strictly regulate.
House Bill 1038, sponsored by Rep. Sherry Appleton, would require that groups making 500 or more similar phone calls for a candidate or ballot measure and all groups conducting persuasive polls, or “push polls,” in an election include the sponsor’s name, city and state at the beginning of the call.
“It’s truth in advance and that’s what we’re all about,” said Appleton referring to campaign call requirements in a hearing on the bill Thursday morning. “We do it for consumer protection, we do it for banks, but we don’t do it here.”
The bill comes after record-breaking spending in the 2010 election, especially by groups trying to influence public opinion on ballot measures.
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Representatives from Washington Public Campaigns, the Public Disclosure Commission and the League of Women Voters came to the hearing in support of the bill, but Rep. Sam Hunt, chairman of the State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, said he was not happy with the bill in its present form.
He said he would want the measure to include a more specific definition of what makes a push poll before he would support it. As it now stands, the bill could tighten disclosure requirements for some of the strategies state lawmakers use to test messages with voters when they run for re-election.
“I think that there’s a fine line between a poll to try to identify issues and a push poll,” Hunt said.
Nancy Krier, General Counsel for the Public Disclosure Commission said a bill that would have required sponsors to identify themselves on recorded campaign calls, or “robo-calls” failed in 2003. Washington law currently does not require sponsors to identify themselves on these calls unless they are made by groups independent of a candidate that spend over $800.
“What the commission heard this last year is let’s get on board with telephone advertising,” Krier said.
Krier said HB 1038 was based on standards in place in other states, especially those in use in Idaho.
Appleton said she would be willing to consider amending the bill to move the sponsorship announcement to the end of phone calls, a change that Hunt suggested.
The committee had not decided when it will next take action on the bill, according to Hunt.