It's time for leadership on campaign spending reform

The Legislature is back in town, and lots of people have ideas about what our lawmakers should be doing. Mine is campaign spending reform.

Like many of you, I was appalled during the last elections at the deluge of advertising in all media, the flood of direct mail pieces and even the insistent ringing of automated telephone appeals. All of that takes a lot of money, so I think it is high time for the Legislature to pass a comprehensive campaign spending bill that would do at least the following insofar as election for partisan and non-partisan offices is concerned:

n Install campaign contribution limits for all local and nonpartisan positions, just as we now have them at the state level.

n Require that every monetary campaign contribution - whether a single donation, an assessment or withholding from a dues payment - be accompanied by a signed donor slip specifying the amount given.

n Require that any organization spending money for a partisan or nonpartisan campaign have signed donor slips in an amount equal to the money spent.

n Prohibit the transfer of money from any organization's general fund to a political action committee or candidate if that fund contains any dues money, except any amount specified in a signed donor slip.

n Prohibit transfer of money from one PAC to another.

n Prohibit transfer of money from one candidate to another or from a candidate to a political party.

n Make all provisions of this applicable to out-of-state contributors as well, even if it involves penalizing the candidates in order to do so.

n Allow so-called independent expenditures provided they comply with the provisions of this proposal.

n Institute a series of monetary penalties for failure to comply.

n Broaden the authority of the Public Disclosure Commission to administer these recommendations.

n Require the disclosure commission to conduct audits of campaign spending on a schedule sufficient to ensure compliance with the rules set forth here.

n Implement a tax on all campaign contributions of up to 5 percent or whatever is necessary to cover the additional costs incurred by the disclosure commission. The tax money should be paid by the agency collecting the funds and be part of its regular report to the disclosure commission.

The foregoing might not be a complete list, but it is a good start. It meets the basic requirement of allowing people and organizations to support the candidates of their choice, both through established partisan political action committees and through independent expenditures. But it places fences around the unfettered flow of large sums of money from one organization to another without any visible connection to the original donor.

So now the ball, so to speak, is in the Legislature's court. It will be interesting to see whether those who were elected to office will vote to change the system that got them there.

Doug DeForest, a consultant on local land use issues and a member of The Olympian's Board of Contributors, can be reached at deforest2021@aol.com.