Amplifying Incumbent Protection Program of Campaign Finance

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Maybe it’s a trap that has just organically formed due to human nature or maybe it’s a deliberate scheme, but ever-increasing campaign finance regulations are effectively an incumbent protection program.  Consider the next notch on the ratchet, as proposed by state representative Deborah Ruggiero and state senator Louis DiPalma:

The state’s campaign finance laws need to be tightened so officeholders and candidates cannot repeatedly amend their finance reports that list all expenses and contributions in a given period, according to Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown. …

“Mandating submission of a paper bank statement is a good first step, it allows the Board of Elections to easily identify discrepancies, but we should go further and require banks to send electronic statements directly to the [Board of Elections], as is done in Massachusetts,” Ruggiero said in the statement. “Most-needed though are stiffer penalties for repeated amendments to campaign finance reports and not filing on time.”

Having spent many hours working with the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit, I can report that situations easily arise that aren’t absolutely clear in the law and can lead to very time-consuming revisions of reports going back months simply to adjust for a $1 discrepancy.  And having worked with local candidates for office, I can also report that even just the prospect of having to fill out these forms is a significant disincentive to run.  If the rules are made even more strict more people will simply decide that it isn’t worth the effort or risk.

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The question that arises is whether it’s more important for our democracy to be able to trace every penny that is donated or spent by state and local campaigns or to avoid having more than one-third of incumbents in the General Assembly winning their campaigns simply by getting their names on the ballot, because they have no opposition.  From my point of view, that isn’t even a close competition.

We’re not going to end corruption by catching it in nickel-and-dime inspection of small-time politicians’ campaign accounts.  We need to ensure that all politicians are under constant threat of losing their seats.  The bigger-time the corruption, the more likely the politician will be to hire people to avoid accounting errors, even as the people who would like to challenge him or her out of a sense of public service are tripped up and fined for minor errors and lapses.



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