Public Comments for 09/23/2021 Joint Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
Thank you Mr. Chairman and Members of the Joint Subcommittee for this opportunity to testify on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, and its 14 Local Leagues serving voters throughout the Commonwealth. My name is Janet Boyd. I am a Member of the LWV-VA Board, and I am leading our organization’s effort to study and make recommendations on proposals to improve campaign finance regulations in Virginia. This statement focuses specifically on Chairman Simon’s legislative proposal that would ban personal use of campaign funds. The LWV-VA believes that representative democracy is distorted by the unrestricted use of campaign funds for personal use. We support Chairman Simon’s draft released on September 17. 2021. In particular, as we have previously testified, language that excludes childcare from the definition of “personal use,” is helpful to encourage greater candidate diversity, and we understand that may be implicit in the draft. We also support the provision that sets up a procedure for requesting and publishing advisory opinions. Advisory opinions give both candidates and the general public better and earlier guidance on what is permitted or not. Additionally, we hope the Joint Subcommittee, and later the full General Assembly, will consider the following recommendations for improvement: • Clarify the definition of “personal use” to ensure that the listed types of expenditures are not exhaustive, and the federal guideline govern, including a childcare exemption. • Requiring four out of five State Board of Elections members to agree in order to dispose of a complaint might be too high a hurdle; consider reducing that to a majority, as well as giving the SBE tools to assist complainants with obtaining the necessary proof of wrongdoing. • Consider increasing the penalty for willful noncompliance to more than $1000, an amount that is not likely to be a deterrent. We also hope in the future that the General Assembly will approve the establishment of a new governmental agency that would have authority to adjudicate all campaign finance complaints, with strong tools such as subpoena power and audit responsibilities. The League of Women Voters of Virginia remains committed to supporting and assisting the Joint Subcommittee in completing your study, as well as finalizing this important legislation. Contact: Janet Boyd, League of Women Voters of Virginia, 202-415-4164, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oregon legislature has defined personal use as the use of [campaign] funds to fulfill a personal commitment, obligation, or expense that would exist irrespective of the campaign or duties as a public office holder. This definition mirrors the Federal Election Commission definition, and we recommend that it be used as a model for personal use prohibitions in Virginia. However, I would like to bring attention to our concerns with the proposed personal use legislation: 1) The proposed complaint process puts a significant burden on the complainant to be complete and accurate. While this requirement is understandable, a complainant may not have access to the necessary records or documentation that they would need to support their complaint. As a result, a complainant would be immediately dismissed because their filing is incomplete. I would suggest that staff at the state board hired to handle the complaint process be empowered to assist complainants who may not access to the necessary documentation. This assistance would also help weed out frivolous complainants at the outset because an evaluation could be made regarding a complainant’s honesty and sincereity at the beginning of the filing process. 2) While the tendency will be to have a low or even de minimis penalty for violating any personal use limitations, should the State Board be forced to bring a candidate who fails to voluntarily resolve any abuse of the personal use limitation before the Board, penalties should be reflective of the time and cost to the board in enforcing the personal use ban. 3) There must be some provision for referral to the Commonwealth Attorney for gross violators and repeat offenders. Finally, I want to emphasize that enhanced transparency and enforcement of the personal use ban necessitates spending on enhanced campaign finance IT system interfaces and hiring of additional personnel. We know this has been said a number of times in previous testimony, but delaying these expenditures will make them more costly and more technologically difficult to implement. Out of date data collection and retention IT systems are not like fine Virginia wine. They don’t end up getting better with age. They end up being vinegar in an expensive bottle.
Hi, my name is Nancy Morgan, coordinator of the VA chapter of American Promise. Thanks to the members of this committee for having such substantive debates on campaign finance reform in the previous meeting. Our group, the VA Chapter of American Promise, was appreciative of the committee’s receptiveness to strengthening the institutional capacity of the Board of Elections, in particular auditing and enforcement, as well as supporting investments which allow public access to campaign finance information. My colleague, Karen Greenaway, will address our comments on the “Public Use” bill. I would like to address the issue of independent expenditures, a topic which came up last week. We mentioned some best practices in our Citizens Report and Best Practices document. The Campaign Legal Center provided a document which provides clear guidance on improving disclosure of independent expenditures. Three recommendations could be easily implemented in Virginia. They pose no burden on candidates, represent best practice and have been shown nationally to improve transparency. 1) Require disclosure of the original sources of large donations; this is essentially a trace back mechanism that identifies the large source of donations. Rhode Island has an excellent law that requires that in the weeks leading up to an election, groups publish the names of their top five contributors on any advertising or messages. 2) Expand the kinds of independent spending subject to disclosure rules. The CLC provides an overview of how the language in the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act limits disclosure to those “expressly advocating” for/against a candidate. This language is overly restrictive. The CLC recommends broadening the types of spending covered by disclosure requirements to include “electioneering communications”. 3) Adopt top donor identifications statements for political ads; they suggest identifying on all ads the three largest donors in excess of a threshold amount (e.g. $5,000) I’m sure that many candidates who have been attacked by anonymous ads would appreciate simple modifications to disclosure rules regarding the definition and reporting requirements related to independent expenditures. A quick comment about the budget and the need for fees which has been brought up in both meeting. We have no problem with fees, recognizing that they should not be expected to cover the major portion of government expenditures required to fund what is a basic public good. Our key priorities are that: • An increase in campaign registration and/or lobbying fees might be considered, but even these should be designed to avoid creating barriers to entry by less affluent campaigns and/or public interest lobbyists. • We need to recognize that increases in filing fees might create disincentive to full and accurate reporting of donations • The state might look at increased fees for lobbyists and requiring lobbyists for pay filing fees for each client whose interests they represent before the legislature. Thanks again for being receptive to the public concerns. We hope that this committee will come up with a comprehensive plan for campaign finance reform and legislative action. Our group came up with our roadmap in two months. Campaign finance is complicated, but not exactly rocket science and Virginia has a track record of recommendations going back 30 years.