Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Georgia Taking Steps at Campaign Finance Reform

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Georgia Taking Steps at Campaign Finance Reform

Article excerpt

While Washington rails against campaign finance abuse,

Georgia might actually do something.

What both parties can agree on is an unsteady baby step

forward, to be sure, but a step just the same.

A panel headed by state House Democratic Whip Jimmy Skipper,

D-Americus, plans to recommend this week that anyone raising and

spending money to influence an election be required to register

with the state and disclose the source and amount of any

contributions.

Such rogue spending is rampant in national politics.

Enterprising lobbyists and campaign operatives set up

lofty-sounding, supposedly "independent" committees that evade

federal spending limits by airing commercials on behalf of

favored candidates.

Georgia got a nasty taste of this hit-and-run style of politics

in 1994, when Tim Ryles was bushwhacked in his re-election bid

for insurance commissioner by a disgruntled insurance company

that was denied a rate increase.

Hiding behind a hastily organized and deceptively named

campaign committee, the company financed an attack campaign that

got a more friendly commissioner elected.

While a candidate would have to make public reports of the

source of contributions and could take only a few thousand

dollars from any one donor, an independent committee is under no

such restraints. That's wrong, say advocates from both parties,

who agree the loophole should be closed by the General Assembly

this year.

"Disclosure has to be as pervasive as possible in a democracy,"

said Theodore Lee, executive director of the State Ethics

Commission. "Otherwise, [Libyan leader] Moammar Gadhafi could

throw a billion dollars into the state and pick your elected

officials for you."

Beyond here, consensus on reform pretty much evaporates.

Skipper's House study committee was advised from the start that

the First Amendment prohibits many well-intentioned ideas, such

as limiting what a rich candidate can spend out-of-pocket on his

own campaign. …

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