Campaign Disclosure Bill Signed into Law
Monday, July 02, 2012
Governor Chafee last week signed into law a bill that will require so-called super PACs to report donors and expenditures to the Board of Elections.
The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Chris Blazejewski and Sen. Juan Pichardo.
Known as the Transparency in Political Spending Act (TIPS), the law requires individuals and organizations that engage in “independent expenditures” and “electioneering communications” to report who is donating and what they’re spending money on. The bill is aimed at the “super-PACs” that formed following the Supreme Court Citizens United decision that ruled that the First Amendment protects corporations’ and unions’ right to fund independent political messages.
“Without infringing on anyone’s right to express their views, this legislation provides the public with information about whose message it is that they’re hearing,” Blazejewski. “We now have a situation where corporations and other outside groups can pour unlimited funding into advertising in elections, and voters wouldn’t even necessarily know the source and its interest in the outcome of the election. This doesn’t say they can’t spread their message; it just says they have to identify themselves to the public.”
Said Senator Pichardo: “This is about transparency. People have to be able to consider the source of the information they are hearing about issues and candidates during any campaign. It makes a big difference about whether they think the message is valid. For example, Rhode Islanders may hear a lot of advertising relating to the casino questions on the ballot in November. Voters should know whether the ads they’re seeing were paid for by someone with a stake in Twin River, for example, or someone who would benefit if the casino questions failed, like casino operators in Connecticut or Massachusetts. It makes a difference to the voter.”
The legislation, which was submitted on behalf of Governor Chafee, was developed in collaboration with Common Cause Rhode Island and was cosponsored by House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed, would require that any group (as defined under the act) that spends more than $1,000 in Rhode Island to support a candidate or a political issue must report that expense to the Board of Elections. It also requires groups that engage in electioneering communications to report all donors who have contributed $1,000 or more in the previous year.
The legislation defines “electioneering communications” as print, broadcast, cable, satellite, or electronic media communications not coordinated with any candidate, authorized candidate committee or political party committee that unambiguously identify a candidate and are made within 60 days of a general or special election or within 30 days of a primary election and can be received by 5,000 or more persons in the constituency. It defines “independent expenditures” as expenditures that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and that are not coordinated with any candidate’s campaign, authorized candidate committee or political party committee.
The sponsors said the issue should be of particular concern to Rhode Islanders, because the small size of the state could make it easy, in relative terms, for a well-funded super-PAC to exert its influence over local interests.