Thursday, November 7, 2019

Senate Passes Campaign Finance Reform Bill

Senate Passes Campaign Finance Reform Bill

Legislation Bolsters Transparency and Accountability


BOSTONThe Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday unanimously passed An Act relative to campaign finance, sponsored by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), which increases transparency and accountability in the Commonwealth’s elections by reforming fiscal reporting requirements.  The bill also establishes a commission to study allowing the use of campaign funds for family-related care.


“Running for public office is one of the most exciting and impactful steps you can take as a citizen in a democracy,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland).  “It is also a lot of work.  Massachusetts must ensure that our campaign finance laws and reporting requirements are under constant review to make certain that we are being as transparent as possible, while opening up the possibility of running for office to more people.”


The depository reporting system, run through the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF)—the independent state agency that administers Massachusetts’ campaign finance law—directs candidates for public office to submit to stringent campaign finance reporting requirements.  Currently, the legislature and some mayoral candidates are exempt from the law that requires statewide, county and many other municipal candidates to use this reporting system. An Act relative to campaign finance seeks to remedy this disparity by requiring all legislative and mayoral candidates in Massachusetts to participate in the depository system.


“Nearly all candidates, including statewide officers, county officers, Governor's Council, mayors and councilors in cities over a population of 65,000, have participated in this depository reporting system—with the exception of some mayoral and all legislative candidates,” said DiZoglio. “This landmark legislation enhances transparency and accountability in our campaign finance law by requiring that bank statements are sent to OCPF and that we disclose our sources of campaign contributions and expenditures much more often for the public to see.”


“I’m proud of the Senate for passing this campaign finance reform legislation today,” said State Senator Barry R. Finegold (D-Andover). “The depository system will lead to increased transparency and uniformity, while minimizing the accidental errors in reporting that often plague campaigns. Voters deserve to know how we get our money as candidates and how we spend it, and the move to the depository system will make all of that data more readily available.”


“Accurate reporting of campaign donations and expenditures is critical for the integrity of our elections and the public trust our democracy depends on,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester). “This modernization of our reporting system will expand a proven methodology to more candidates, and produce more timely and accurate information about financial activity. “


By requiring all legislative and mayoral candidates to participate in the depository reporting system, this bill will increase accountability by requiring monthly reports that disclose all campaign finance activity, in addition to reports filed by their designated financial institution. Currently, filings for those presently exempt from the depository system occur only two or three times a year.  By increasing the filing frequency to 12 times per year, the legislation seeks to increase transparency in statewide campaign finance activity.


This revised process will assist OCPF in identifying discrepancies between a candidate’s public disclosure of campaign finance activity and their bank accounting records.  It would also help OCPF promptly address issues associated with data entry errors, missed deposits, balance issues and uncashed checks.  In addition, the change will make it easier to see how much money a candidate is raising and spending during the course of the entire election cycle.


During floor debate, an amendment was debated that would establish the creation of a commission to study the use of campaign funds for family-related activities such as child care and caring for relatives with medical needs. The amendment passed unanimously.


“Campaigning is so hard and has so many barriers, especially with family to care for,” said State Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville). “But, today we are starting the process to remove one more barrier by examining whether candidates should be able to use donated funds to pay for family care services during campaign activities. We must take bold steps to diversify our elected office holders.”


The bill now returns to the House for further consideration.