States Push New Ethics Reforms Scandals and Unbalanced Elections Have Led to Proposed Changes in Campaign Finance. SWEEPING IN THE STATE HOUSE
Elizabeth Ross, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
ETHICS reform is resurfacing as a serious political issue in state capitols all over the United States.
"States are experimenting in many different areas" of ethics-reform legislation, says Frederick Herrmann, former chairman of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws, in Lexington, Ky.
Reform legislation has been prompted in part by several recent state-house scandals. In Arizona, a police sting operation early this year resulted in several state legislators being indicted on charges of bribery and money laundering. In South Carolina, several lawmakers were indicted and charged with bribery in connection with an FBI undercover investigation involving a gambling scheme.
The current reform trend centers on campaign-spending limits and public financing of elections, Dr. Herrmann says. About half the states now have some form of public financing of elections.
Public financing "allows candidates of limited means to run for office," Herrmann says. In New Jersey's last gubernatorial election, public financing helped bring out "a good field of candidates," he says.
In Michigan, campaign-finance reform laws require candidates to disclose how much money they received and spent before and after an election. The state also publicly finances gubernatorial races.
Minnesota provides public campaign financing to all party-designated state constitutional and legislative offices as well as US Senate and House offices. The state is also considering legislation to further limit how much money candidates can receive from political action committees (PACs).
Connecticut passed a bill last year that prohibits lobbyists from making contributions to candidates or their PACs during legislative sessions.
New legislation is also being proposed here in Massachusetts. Twenty-eight lawmakers, Gov. William Weld (R), and Boston-based Common Cause, a government watchdog group, support sweeping campaign-finance and ethics-reform legislation. A new bill, introduced last week, would:
- Tighten limits on PAC and lobbyists' campaign contributions.
- Place restrictions on candidates' use of campaign money.
- Strengthen enforcement of ethics rules. …