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Connecticut Legislature Takes on Campaign Finance Disclosure

http://sunlightfoundation.com

A Connecticut bill has been making the rounds in transparency circles recently: HB 5556, a toothy, bipartisan approach to corporate and union campaign financial disclosure, introduced as the state’s response to Citizens United. It quickly passed the CT House 94 - 57 and the Senate 20 - 15 on May 8th, and now all eyes are on Governor Dan Malloy to see whether he’ll veto the bill or sign it into law this week. Although Malloy authored the original text, the bill has been significantly beefed up since it left his office and entered the Government Administration and Elections Committee -- so much so that Malloy’s office has been resistant to showing their support.
But they should get over themselves. It’s refreshing to see a state legislature take such a dedicated approach to campaign finance disclosure reform, especially in an election year. Here’s a round-up of some of the bolder transparency-related measures CT legislators are trying to pass with HB 5556:

  • Super PACs and other 501(c)s engaged in campaign-related activity would have to...
    • Report all donations over $1000 and publish the names and addresses of these donors on the organization’s website.
    • Report any transfer of funds marked for political activity, including the full name and addresses of all individuals involved in making the donation and transfer -- even when the receiving end is another organization. (Translation: Say goodbye to shadowy front groups and intermediaries...)
  • Corporations, unions, and other legally organized bodies would have to have their boards pre-authorize each and every campaign-related disbursement over $4000 through a vote. Votes of individual members and the resulting expenditures would then need to be published on the organization’s website within 48 hours of voting.
  • All political ads would be required to not only list the top five donors at the end of the ad (strengthening current “Stand by Your Ad” provisions), but to also include a URL pointing to a website where people can see all the organization’s donors -- including the names and addresses of every donor who gave more than $1000.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of HB 5556’s provisions, but these requirements speak to the boldness of Connecticut’s approach. In fact, many of the measures listed above are kin to those in the DISCLOSE Act, a Sunlight-supported federal campaign finance bill currently languishing in Congress.
HB 5556 isn’t a perfect bill (note the strange rider about military voting and the potential "chilling" of grassroots/citizen lobbying near election day), but as far as its approach to transparency measures are concerned, it should be commended and seriously considered as a (constitutional) solution to a problem faced by states everywhere, at time when reform is needed most.

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