Politics & Government

Kentucky House passes bill to boost campaign donations

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, presided over the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January 5, 2016.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, presided over the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January 5, 2016. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The Kentucky House voted 77 to 22 Monday to boost the sums that campaign donors and corporations can give to state politicians and their parties.

House Bill 147, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, advances to the Senate. Stumbo told his colleagues before the vote that Kentucky has not updated its campaign contribution limits since 1998.

“I think it’s about time,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “Campaigns have gotten more expensive. Elections where candidates are not able to compete financially put them at a great disadvantage. And to top all of that off, the Supreme Court, in the Citizens United decision we’re all aware of, now allows this so-called ‘dark money’ to come into our state.”

Among the changes in the 42-page bill, donors could give $2,000 to a candidate per election, up from the current $1,000, and the new limit would rise over time with inflation. Donation limits to the House and Senate caucus committees and the Democratic and Republican parties’ executive committees would rise from $2,500 a year to $5,000.

The bill also would let the Democratic and Republican parties establish “building funds” that can raise large sums from corporations and other sources to spend on their respective state headquarters in Frankfort. At present, corporations are prohibited from giving money to state candidates or political parties.

Several House members said they opposed the bill because it would further skew the political advantage to wealthy donors. Most Kentuckians can’t afford to give $1,000 to a politician, much less $2,000 to $5,000, the critics said.

This is in some ways a lazy politician bill, because if you can get a big chunk of money with one phone call, it’s a lot easier than going out and trying to democratize the process. What are we doing? We’re just selling our souls, ladies and gentlemen.

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, suggested the political parties might as well sell the naming rights to their buildings if corporations with an interest in pending state business will be paying for them. Wayne suggested “the AT&T Republican Headquarters or the Intel Democratic headquarters.”

“This is in some ways a lazy politician bill, because if you can get a big chunk of money with one phone call, it’s a lot easier than going out and trying to democratize the process,” Wayne said. “What are we doing? We’re just selling our souls, ladies and gentlemen.”

Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, said letting rich people write bigger checks to campaigns will shut out “the little guy” who might have run for elected office.

“It hurts the virtuous person of modest means who is not politically connected. He doesn’t go to parties with millionaires and billionaires,” Riner said.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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