Politics & Government

More money? No problem. Senate passes bill to increase contribution limits

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Lawmakers in Kentucky are looking for more of that sweet, sweet cash.

A bill that would double the amount donors can contribute to a campaign passed the Senate Wednesday on a party-line vote after it got out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee committee earlier in the day.

Senate Bill 75, proposed by Sen. Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, doubles the amount that individuals and PACs can donate to a campaign, caucus campaign committees and state executive committees, along with other changes to Kentucky campaign finance laws.

“I think it’s appropriate that we update our campaign contribution limits,” Thayer said. “They’re way out of date;they’re among the lowest in the country. We have several states on our border where there are no limits, and campaigns are more expensive.”

Currently, individuals and PACs can donate $1,000 to a candidate in both the primary and the general election, allowing them to donate a maximum of $2,000 for each election cycle. The current maximum to give to state executive committees and caucus campaign committees — in effect the Republican and Democratic parties — is $2,500.

In committee, Thayer defended the necessity of the bill, saying that with the increase of so-called “dark money” in politics — groups donating money while shielding their identities — it’s important to increase the amount that candidates can receive transparently.

“The role of the campaigns and political parties is being diminished by super PACs,” Thayer said. “And I support Citizens United and I’m for super PACs. But I think we need to make our campaigns and our political parties, at the state level especially, more effective.”

Along with increasing contributions, the bill allows corporations to make unlimited donations to a political party’s building fund — a separate account that would allow political parties to pay the bills on their property and buy land.

The money contributed to the building fund would have to be reported to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance and could not be used for campaigns or issues advocacy.

It also allows political parties to make unlimited contributions to campaigns, eliminating a rule that says a candidate cannot accept contributions from permanent committees of more than $10,000 or 50 percent of the total contributions accepted by the candidate.

During the debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said the measure is “a rush to make Frankfort just like Washington to let the rich and wealthy control everything.”

“I support this bill and happen to think how I donate my money is a sign of my speech,” said Sen. Will Schroder, R-Wilder.

The Senate vote was 27-10 along party lines. That prompted Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer to recall that Senate Democrats voted for the bill two years ago when it passed the Senate but failed in the House. The House initiated the bill last year but it did not get out of the Senate.

Thayer said he hopes Senate Democrats this year who voted against the bill will run their future campaigns on the smaller contribution limits.

But several Senate Democrats said they were not voting in bloc. Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said the minority caucus did not discuss on how to vote on the bill.

He said he voted against the bill because it lets corporations pay for building funds for political parties. “We are going to fund a Taj Mahal for one of our building funds,” he said.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, supported the bill, saying that even with increased limits, the money pales in comparison to super PACs.

“When we raise these limits, it’s small potatoes to what some people call dark money,” Bowen said.

Thayer cited increased transparency, because the bill adds a requirement that candidates file a campaign finance report 60 days before the election, a provision that contradicts a House bill that would reduce the number of candidate filing periods to two per election. Thayer opposes the House bill.

“I think there’s too long of a period between the 30-day post primary and the 30-day pre-report,” Thayer said.

The bill now goes to the House for its consideration.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics