Tomorrow will mark the end of yet another expensive campaign season across the country. But in New York spending will go on. In the Empire State, candidate campaign funds can continue to flow long after those candidates have exited the political stage.
As the New York Times wrote in an editorial last week, candidates for state office can maintain campaign accounts—and continue to dole out funds from them—long after they have left office, been convicted of a crime or even after they have died.
When state legislators in Wisconsin began work last year on a plan for redistricting, the once-a-decade process when states draw new district maps for Congress and state legislatures, they found themselves presented with non-disclosure agreements requiring them to keep their deliberations confidential.
In Ohio, the Republican National Committee kicked off a training session on redistricting for state leaders by telling them to “keep it secret.”
Democratic leaders in Illinois held dozens of public hearings after promising a more open process. But all of the meetings came before the congressional redistricting maps were released, and the Democratic majority quickly approved their own proposals with little opportunity for the public, or Republicans, to voice concerns.
Earlier this year the State Integrity Investigation published a story detailing how an obscure, 2010 federal court ruling in South Carolina “kicked the regulatory teeth” out of the state’s campaign finance laws. The ruling essentially stripped the requirement for outside groups to disclose their donors.
This election marks the first in which several powerful Republican incumbents are up for re-election since the ruling, and as The State reports today, the results aren’t pretty for the legislators.
Lack of limits on PAC, party contributions takes teeth out of individual limits.
By Denise Ross
In South Dakota, the ease with which campaign cash moves around has mostly put power in the hands of those who already had it — the wealthy and the state's top elected officials.
Because of lax regulations regarding how money can flow into and out of political action committees, political party funds and individual candidate funds, the state's top officeholders are able to legally skirt existing fundraising limits and get relatively large sums into campaign coffers with little effort.
Among the state’s biggest cities, several sprawling Dallas-area suburbs tallied the highest rate of requests to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last year to keep government information secret, according to a recent examination by the Center for Public Integrity.
The probe examined the number of attempts by the 20 largest Texas cities to block public requests for information in 2011, then looked at how those numbers stacked up for each city, according to the rate of requests per 100,000 population. The “winners” were not the state’s biggest cities. McKinney had the highest rate of requests asking that Abbott allow the withholding of documents sought by citizens under the Texas Public Information Act. Next up were McAllen, Garland, Mesquite, Plano and Arlington. Fort Worth was ranked eighth and Dallas ninth, giving the Fort Worth/Dallas metroplex seven of the top 10 in the rankings.
PACs and Super PACs have been the focus of presidential election coverage this year, but the issue is alive in the states too. In Maine, the ethics commission is now looking into whether a state senator improperly coordinated with one Republican PAC.
The state Democratic Party filed a complaint last week after the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC spent nearly $73,000 on television ads supporting Nichi Farnham, who is running for re-election to represent Bangor and a neighboring town. The only problem is that it turns out that Farnham is listed as the primary fundraiser and authorizing agent for the PAC, and PAC’s aren’t allowed to coordinate with the candidates or their campaigns.
South Carolina’s capital of Columbia is abuzz with political gossip following a report that the House Speaker has failed to properly report hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign spending. Last week, the Post and Courier of Charleston reported that Republican Bobby Harrell has reimbursed himself more than $325,000 from his campaign account since 2008, but has neglected to submit receipts or itemized reports for all the spending, as required by state law.
The failure appears to put Harrell out of compliance with ethics rules, but it’s unclear who exactly will be trying to answer that question. Normally, oversight authority rests with a six-member legislative committee. But, as the Post and Courier points out, Harrell has made campaign contributions to five of those legislators through a PAC he is affiliated with, leading watchdog groups to question the committee’s independence. The chair of the committee told the Post and Courier he couldn’t “afford” to talk about the allegations.
By Naomi Schalit and John Christie
©Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
AUGUSTA, Maine — Two of the state’s top political leaders are vowing a bipartisan effort to make government ethics, accountability and transparency key issues in the upcoming legislative session.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage and House Democratic leader Emily Cain are responding to a national report that gave Maine government an “F” for its potential for corruption.
Maine ranked 46th in the “State Integrity Investigation” by three nonpartisan good government groups that was released in mid-March.
By JIM WALLS
Perhaps no state illustrates the political perils of ethics enforcement better than Georgia, where the ethics commission has been the nexus of more infighting, vitriol and litigation than a Univision novella.
Keeping track of all the resignations, firings, accusations and countercharges there has challenged even the most knowledgeable observers of Peach State politics. Three executive directors have resigned or been fired since 2006. Two other employees collected $405,000 in damages for allegedly wrongful termination. Lawmakers stripped the agency of 40 percent of its funding, its power to make new rules, even its name.
Today, public pressure builds for ethics reform in Georgia, which received an 'F' grade and ranked dead-last in the State Integrity Investigation's review of state government ethics and accountability. The agency charged with policing government ethics there faces a host of challenges:
- Two former top-ranking officials allege the commission fired them for investigating suspected campaign abuses by Gov. Nathan Deal.
- Thousands of candidate disclosures swamp the agency’s online filing system, paralyzing it at peak periods for many users.
- Violators continue to avoid stiffer penalties because the commission has not devoted the resources to formally notifying them.
- Thin staffing keeps the staff from reviewing even 10 percent of the tens of thousands of filings it receives each year.
Much of this has come to pass, critics say, because the commission answers to the very politicians it’s supposed to regulate and investigate. Legislative leaders set its budget, control its powers and, along with the governor, decide who its five members will be.
In the view of many of the body’s critics, that system has failed. An independent commission, says former commission chief Teddy Lee, is essential.
“It’s got to be set up in a way that it can’t be manipulated,” says Lee, “by people who have no desire to be overseen or second-guessed.”