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Campaign Finance Reform is Much Needed

April 9, 2007

Campaign Finance Reform is Much Needed


There is an old saying that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Folks tend to act a little differently when they know their actions are out in the open. Currently, our campaign finance system is shrouded in darkness; voters often don't know who backs one side of an issue, a particular candidate, or even a political party.


There is a veil of secrecy over much of Alabama politics, because the public cannot find the source of critical political money. However, over the past two weeks, the House passed significant campaign finance reform legislation that stops hidden money and sheds some light into Alabama's political process.


The campaign disclosure bill, sponsored by Rep. Randy Hinshaw (D-Meridianville), requires that all groups disclose the source of funding for electioneering communications and paid political advertisements, even non-profit organizations. Making everyone disclose that they paid for an ad makes sense and is basic fairness. 


Open and honest elections only come when a voter can know who funds campaigns. In Alabama, anyone can run an ad in opposition to an issue or attack a group of candidates. As long as the ad is based on an issue, rather than a candidate, the disparaging advertisement’s funding may remain anonymous. It is time that special interests stop hiding behind the ruse of issue advocacy.  Rep. Hinshaw’s bill closes that loophole, and ensures that everyone knows the source of money spent to influence the outcome of an election.


The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin (D-Guntersville), deals with political action committees, or PACs. Our current system essentially legalizes money laundering. Money flows from large corporations, Indian casinos, and other special interests, and passes from one PAC to another then into campaigns, until the real source of the money is lost. Rep. McLaughlin’s bill prohibits these PAC-to-PAC transfers.


Elected officials like ourselves must report where we get campaign contributions, and traditional political action committees representing industries and groups, also report their finances; that’s the way it should be. Stopping transfers increases transparency, and the clearer the information, the better-informed voters will be.    


Both of these bills were part of a bi-partisan effort, and passed the House without dissent.  However, this session is not the first time that the House has passed both of these bills. In fact, this year is the fifth year that we have passed the disclosure bill, and the seventh that we have passed the PAC-to-PAC ban. In previous years, both bills died on the floor of the Senate.


I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will finally pass these bills and increase transparency in elections. Shadows and concealment hurt the political process, discourage citizens from participating in the legislative process, and hide the truth necessary in elections.


Real campaign finance reform will bring needed sunshine to Alabama politics, and let everyone know who is really behind an issue or campaign. When both of these bills are signed into law, it will be a great day for Alabama.