Politics & Government

Plan to double limit on campaign donations heads to Kentucky House

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, explained his Senate Bill 75 to other lawmakers on the Senate floor last month. The bill would increase the limits on political donations in Kentucky.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, explained his Senate Bill 75 to other lawmakers on the Senate floor last month. The bill would increase the limits on political donations in Kentucky. LRC Public Information

The Kentucky legislature is poised to greatly increase the amount of money in state election campaigns.

The House Elections Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 75, which would double the $1,000 limit on what individuals and political action committees can give to candidates, political parties and caucus committees for primary and general elections, and then allow that limit to rise with inflation.

The bill also would let political parties accept unlimited donations from corporations for newly established “building funds,” intended to be used for the parties’ headquarters — the buildings, their contents and the land under them. This money, like any political donation, would have to be reported to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance for public review. And political parties would be able to make unlimited contributions to individual campaigns, eliminating current restrictions on how much party money a candidate can accept.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told the House committee that it will restore a measure of power to the state’s politicians in elections now largely funded by privately financed outside groups.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision — and I happen to agree with it — but if you agree or disagree, one thing you probably wouldn’t debate is that because of that decision, the role of individual campaigns and political parties has been diminished somewhat,” Thayer said. “This will absolutely strengthen the role of individual campaigns and political parties.”

“And by the way,” Thayer added a few minutes later, “these limits are still ridiculously small compared to most surrounding states.”

The committee voted 8 to 4 to send to bill to the House floor, its final stop in the General Assembly.

Two Democratic representatives — Derrick Graham of Frankfort and Reginald Meeks of Louisville — told Thayer they fear his bill would make Kentucky politicians too beholden to wealthy donors. The more money that one contributor can give to a politician, Graham said, the greater his influence becomes, at the expense of other citizens who might not be able to afford to give anything.

“We already see that to some extent,” Graham said. “In the last election cycle, the amount of money spent on simple state representative races went anywhere from a quarter-million dollars to a half-million dollars for a seat that pays something like $28,000 a year.”

Also Monday, committee chairman Kenny Imes, R-Murray, said his panel won’t act this session on two resolutions calling for a convention of the states to make changes to the U.S. Constitution. Imes allowed discussion of House Concurrent Resolution 13 and House Joint Resolution 54, but he said those proposals should be debated around the state later this year before they return to the legislature.

Under Article 5 of the Constitution, 34 state governments can pass a resolution calling for a convention to propose amendments to the nation’s founding document, bypassing the usual route through Congress. So far, a loose coalition of groups working toward this goal over many years has pushed Article 5 resolutions through 29 state legislatures. Wyoming became the most recent late last month.

HJR 54, sponsored by Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, calls for a convention to propose constitutional amendments that would require a balanced federal budget and curb the powers of the federal government. HCR 13, filed by Rep. Scott Wells, R-West Liberty, calls for a convention limited to the subject of a balanced budget amendment.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics