Maine law requires candidates and political action committees to quickly report major campaign contributions and expenditures during the two weeks before an election. A new proposal would scrap that requirement so that information would not be available until weeks after Election Day.
Last year, candidates, PACs and ballot question campaigns disclosed more than $2.6 million of spending under what’s known as 24-hour reporting. This activity was available to members of the public before Election Day, allowing them to track major spending and contributions within 24 hours of each transaction.
But the proposal, sponsored by Republican Senate Leader Garrett Mason and backed by both Democrats and Republicans, would scrap that requirement. If enacted, the flurry of spending and contributions two weeks before an election would remain hidden until 42 days after Election Day.
“As we all know the final days before an election are taxing on candidates. Things sometimes fall through the cracks,” Mason said.
During a public hearing on the bill Monday, Mason argued that the reporting requirement is burdensome and can ensnare inexperienced campaigns, subjecting them to fines.
And Kate Knox, general counsel for the Maine Democratic Party, agrees.
Knox told the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that she had come to testify in her “personal capacity.” She said 24-hour reporting is irrelevant because the state no longer allows publicly-funded candidates to receive additional matching funds when their opponents outspend them.
“Those matching funds don’t exist anymore,” she said. “I think the only policy left is transparency.”
But transparency would suffer under the proposal, says Andrew Bossie with Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. Bossie told lawmakers that 24-hour disclosure comes at critical time, two weeks before an election, when campaigns are most active, spending is at its peak and voters are paying attention.
“This is when large amounts of money can sway a race. And it’s also when voters are making up their minds,” he said.
Also, Bossie took issue with the argument that timely disclosure is now irrelevant because of changes to Maine’s public campaign finance law.
According to Jonathan Wayne, director of the Maine Ethics Commission, Maine has had timely disclosure requirement since 1976. The law used to require campaigns to report within 48 hours of a major contribution or expense, and was changed to 24 hours in 2004. Maine is now one of 14 states that require timely disclosure, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Still, Wayne says the ethics commission has supported cutting back on 24-hour disclosure because a lot of spending is reported in so-called independent expenditure reports, filed by campaigns that can spend unlimited amounts to influence an election.
Spending by these groups has skyrocketed since 2010, hitting over $14 million two years ago. During that time campaigns have become increasingly sophisticated. And coordination among multiple PACs has made it harder to follow the money trail.
Under the new proposal, it still might be possible to quickly see which campaign is spending money to influence a race or ballot question, but the true origin of the money might not be known until well after the election.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.