Deleware governor signs campaign finance reform, transparency bills

Delaware is about to get more transparent, thanks to a package of bills that recently passed the legislature and will be signed today by Governor Markell. The package includes a significant overhaul of the state’s campaign finance rules – the first in more than 20 years, stronger penalties for late filings of election disclosures, and increased disclosure requirements for state lobbyists.

The Delaware Elections Disclosure Act, reforms Delaware’s election disclosure laws by closing a major loophole under existing law by requiring persons, other than political candidates and parties, who engage in “electioneering communications” before an election to file a report disclosing the sources of funding for such ads.

The existing loophole in essence, would have allowed political action committees or individuals to place ads seeking to influence elections without noting at the end who approved the ads, as candidates are required to do. The current law only required a disclosure filing to be made only if the ad specifically says its for or against a specific candidate, without a “vote for” message, the ads go on unattributed. The new law requires reports for electioneering communications that refer to a clearly identified candidate and are publicly distributed within 30 days before a primary or special election, or 60 days before a general election.

Ads that cost $500 or more would also be required to include a closing disclosure that includes a web address about the funding organization so that voters can be aware of who paid for the message. Those spending $500 or more on ads must also file a disclosure with the elections commission within 24 hours. Previously, independent groups had in some cases up to 30 days, depending on when the ads ran.

Finally, the bill requires entities that contribute more than $1,200 to political action committees or political parties during an election cycle to disclose the name and address of a “responsible party.” It also places additional requirements on political action committees to be more specific in their organizational statements describing their purpose and activities.

The reform appears to be at least in part a reaction to the controversial Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S.Ct. 876 (2010), which in effect allows for unlimited campaign financing from independent entities. Indeed, the decision is referenced in the bill itself and the state appears to be working to provide more transparency and information to voters about who these independent entities are and what their election agendas might be. Since the decision in 2010 elections at all levels of government have seen unprecedented amounts of campaign related spending, often from sources hailing far outside a given state’s borders depending on what is at issue on a ticket.

The second bill amends existing rules governing election commission disclosures by increasing the fee for late filings from $50 per month to $50 per day. As well as increasing fees for ads that are meant to appear with “paid for by,” statements and fail to do so.

The third bill will require state lobbyists to make a filing with the Public Integrity Commission within five business days of contact with a relevant public official about a bill, resolution or regulation. It also shortens the length of time that lobbyists have to make financial and registration filings with the state.

For it’s part the state will then make those disclosures available to the public through a searchable online database. Delaware has some of the most business friendly corporate and tax laws in the nation and as long been the seat of much lobbying activity, the new laws will serve to bring that to light.

The signing ceremony is expected this afternoon.