Let#039;s look at campaign funding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Seeking a statewide office in Alabama has always been expensive but as each year passes our elections seem to be disproportionately costly to the rest of the nation.

This is particularly true of the Governor's race in Alabama.

Campaign reports filed this week with the Secretary of State show that Congressman Bob Riley and Governor Don Siegelman have each raised over $7 million in their quest to hold the Governorship for the next four years.

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There is yet seven weeks to go before the election so this $14 million could easily become $20 million or more.

That is an expensive campaign by any standard.

Several years ago the Alabama Legislature enacted a law which puts a $500 limit on contributions by a corporation for a given campaign cycle.

The courts have interpreted this "limitation" as having a minimum of 3 cycles in a campaign year.

They count the primary, the runoff and the general election as each being a cycle.

There are no limits in Alabama on what an individual can give to a campaign or to a political action committee.

So essentially our state does not have any meaningful limits on campaign contributions.

There also is no limit on expenditures by the candidates.

Many states in our nation have limited campaign contributions and expenditures and required detailed disclosure of such contributions and expenditures.

In Alabama, the reports which were filed this week by all candidates seeking public office required such disclosure and I think this is good for the process.

When I first became involved in politics many years ago, there were no such requirements but these reforms have been made in response to public concern about the increasing cost of campaigns and the potential for corruption that arises when money and politics are combined.

Some states have experimented with public financing of elections combined with voluntary spending limits for candidates who participate.

Four states – Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont – have passed comprehensive public financing programs in the last three years.

These measures, called "clean election laws", have yet to be tested.

Vermont's measure provides public funds only to gubernatorial candidates, but imposes mandatory spending limits on both gubernatorial and legislative candidates.

Some states have enacted laws which place limits as low as $100 on individual contributions, but some of these have been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.

The decisions in these cases make for interesting reading because all kind of rational is offered to justify the holding by the court.

Basically the courts are saying that if a candidate is limited to $100 per donor he or she could not raise enough money to make an effective effort to publicize their records, qualifications and promises.

Likewise many states have limited the amount that may be contributed by political action committees, commonly known as PACs.

At least one state in the nation outright prohibits contributions from corporations or labor unions to candidates.

This is an interesting twist.

In the state of Nebraska, contributions from individuals are unlimited, but candidates are limited to a maximum amount of aggregate contributions that can be accepted in an election cycle from PACs, corporations, labor unions, associations and political parties.

I mention all of these various laws and approaches to campaign finance reform to show you how varied they are and how complex is this issue.

Because of the growing cost of an election in Alabama, I am of the opinion that it is time for us to look at placing limitations on both campaign contributions and expenditures for all races at all levels.

I would be very interested in hearing from you – my constituents – on how you feel about this issue.

Remember, "I'll go with you or I'll go for you" to help you solve any problem related to state government.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can be reached at 334-242-7883, or by writing to P O Box 225, Luverne, Alabama 36049.