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Campaign Finance, Election Reform Bill Filed in Senate

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By Armon Drysdale

MONTGOMERY – When Reform Alabama laid out its legislative agenda in January, the organization listed election law reform as a top priority for 2012. After several months of research and collaboration, the group’s first such bill was filed Tuesday in the Alabama Senate.

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, is sponsoring SB551, which Reform Alabama wrote in consultation with the offices of the secretary of state and the attorney general, as well as the Alabama Ethics Commission. The bill addresses two omitted issues regarding campaign finance laws, one of which has only recently come to light in the wake of a December court ruling regarding PAC-to-PAC transfers. SB551 would require all PACs receiving funds from other PACs for the purposes of get-out-the-vote operations to establish accounts separate from those used to fund candidates.

The second part of the legislation addresses the monitoring and enforcement of violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, specifically:

•The act would require all PACs and candidates to file an annual registration fee to the secretary of state’s office, which will set the fee amount in consultation with the Alabama Ethics Commission. The secretary of state’s office would transfer all funds collected from those fees to the ethics commission, which would then use the money to completely fund a monitoring division. This division would monitor each registered candidate and PAC for compliance with FCPA laws.

•Any PAC or candidate which fails to file finance reports in a timely or compliant manner would then face a civil penalty ($500). A second offense would result in a higher penalty ($1,000), while a third and presumably intentional offense would be referred to the attorney general’s office for criminal action. The law provides for criminal action on first and second offenses if they are deemed intentional.

•The law would require every candidate and campaign committee to designate an individual or registered agent; all legal responsibility and liability would fall on that individual or agent.

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Reform Alabama began researching enforcement mechanisms shortly after the end of the 2011 legislative session that enacted several crucial campaign finance and election reform laws. The group began dialogue in November with all three government offices involved and recently reached an agreement for the Alabama Ethics Commission to accommodate a monitoring division. The law would also resolve several concerns in a finding handed down by a Montgomery grand jury this month.

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SB551 on Thursday received a favorable report from the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections committee; a Senate vote could come as early as next week.

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