By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The 2014 campaign season is underway, and candidates for state and local elected offices are having to adjust to new laws regarding their campaign financial disclosures.
Alabama law requires candidates to file regular reports of the their campaign’s contributions received and expenditures made. In previous elections, candidates were required to file reports 45 days and 10 days prior to an election, as well as every year once they had met the filing thresholds for the office they were seeking.
After taking control of the state legislature in 2010, Republicans passed a series of laws that changed when and how these reports were filed, as well as changing the required threshold for filings.
Under the new law (Act No. 2011-687), candidates are required to file a disclosure report every month once they have met the thresholds. In the final month of an election, candidates will be required to file a report every week. Candidates will also be required to file a report every day for the final eight days of an election. Lastly, candidates are now required to file a report within two business days for any contribution of $20,000 or more.
Next year’s election will also be the first to require candidates to file their reports online rather than submitting paper copies to the Secretary of State’s office. This new system will also allow the public to search donation records by contributor as well as by candidate or political action committee.
In addition to these changes, last year lawmakers passed legislation changing the filing threshold. Previously, candidates seeking statewide office were required to file once they had raised or spent $25,000.Candidates for the state Senate were required to file once they had raised or spent $10,000, while candidates for the state House of Representatives were required to file once they had raised or spent $5,000, as were candidates for circuit or district office. Municipal candidates were required to file once they had raised or spent $1,000.
Senate Bill 445 by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, changed the threshold by lowering it to $1,000 for all candidates for state and local office. Senate Bill 445 was signed into law by Gov. Bentley on May 20th and became Act No. 2013-311. This part of the law went into effect on August 1, 2013.
Because the law didn’t go into effect until August 1, candidates were subject to previous contribution thresholds prior to that date. For example, a State Senate candidate could have raised $7,000 in June but not filed a disclosure report until August 1. After August 1, with the new thresholds in effect, that candidate would then be in violation of the law if he or she did not disclose.
Alabama was required under the Voting Rights Act to have any new laws that would impact elections be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or a panel of three federal judges. But that provision was nullified when the Supreme Court struck down section four of the Voting Rights Act in late June. That decision allowed all laws seeking preclearance to go into effect on August 1st.
The Secretary of State’s office is currently in the process of updating their website and materials to reflect the changes. Additionally, the Secretary of State’s office has created a hotline for candidates and other interested parties to direct their questions. That hotline can be called at 334-242-7200 or 1-800-274-VOTE (8683).