The California-based Campaign Disclosure Project recently downgraded Kentucky in its annual ranking of states with the best campaign finance laws. Kentucky might vault back into its national leadership standing after the General Assembly considers a bill sponsored by Sen.
Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown). Secretary of State Trey Grayson along with Thayer, Rep. Mike Cherry (D- Princeton), and former Chairman of the Kentucky House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Adrian Arnold (D-Mt. Sterling) announced support for campaign finance reform legislation during the 2007 session of the General Assembly in mid-February.
"Transparency and access to campaign financial information allow citizens to keep candidates and elected officials accountable for their campaign fundraising. This bill will dramatically increase those aspects of Kentucky Campaign Finance law and return Kentucky to its national leadership status in campaign finance reform."
- State Senator Damon Thayer
Thayer’s bill, Senate Bill 159, notably calls for a number of recommendations from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) Task Force, which issued a report to the General Assembly just over one year ago. Two of the task force’s top priorities, increased reporting and more electronic filing of reports, are major thrusts of the proposed legislation. The Campaign Disclosure Project specifically cited Kentucky’s lack of required electronic filing as a major reason for its downgrade. Kentucky scored an “F” rating for a low rate of electronic filing of fundraising and spending reports.
“Transparency and access to campaign financial information allow citizens to keep candidates and elected officials accountable for their campaign fundraising,” stated Thayer. “This bill will dramatically increase those aspects of Kentucky Campaign Finance law and return Kentucky to its national leadership status in campaign finance reform.”
The bill calls for increased reports by adding an additional report due 60 days before primary elections for statewide elected officials, as well as an additional report due 60 days before general elections for all candidates. It also requires all candidates who raise over $25,000 in one election cycle to electronically file their reports to the KREF.
Rep. Cherry, who worked with Sen. Thayer and former Rep. Arnold to vet the KREF Task Force’s findings during the 2006 Interim Session of the General Assembly, stated, “I look forward to being part of a bipartisan effort to enact meaningful campaign finance and election regulations reform. We delved into the subject in great detail during interim joint committee sessions this summer, and I feel members of both parties were of very similar minds on the issues as presented by the Registry of Election Finance.”
Kentucky’s existing election finance laws have been challenged by observers of and participants in the system as confusing, lengthy and legally problematic. A recent series of legal challenges invalidated several portions of the existing election finance statutes. The legislation addresses many changes in election laws that resulted from those decisions.
“I am excited to support the most comprehensive and significant proposal in years to improve Kentucky’s election finance laws. I encourage members of the General Assembly to support this bill, and I thank Sen. Thayer, Rep. Cherry, former Rep. Arnold, and the Advisory Taskforce to the Registry for helping craft legislation worthy of the legislature’s expedient action,” remarked Grayson, the commonwealth’s Chief Election Official. “It is important that we shine a bright light on how campaigns are funded in Kentucky, and this legislation will do much to ensure that citizens have convenient access to campaign finance information.”
John Rogers, chair of the Registry of Election Finance, the agency charged with enforcement of Kentucky’s campaign finance laws, applauded Sen. Thayer’s efforts to move Kentucky’s campaign finance laws into the 21st century. Noting that many of the changes proposed in the legislation are the result of careful study by legislative committees following a 2005 final report issued by the KREF’s Advisory Task Force under Rogers’ leadership, Rogers predicted the legislation will receive serious attention this session. "Evolving technology opens new ways of collecting and reporting campaign contributions and our current laws do not address or accommodate such changes; so, it is very important for this kind of review to occur periodically to allow for and encourage positive changes to Kentucky's campaign finance laws," said Rogers.