In 2017, 23 states amended their campaign finance laws.
Unlike prior years, the hottest topic for legislation this year was modification to civil and criminal penalties for violations of campaign finance laws. (In previous years changes to disclosure requirements topped the list.) A number of states introduced new criminal penalties for violations of their campaign finance laws or increased civil penalties.
Another popular subject was restrictions on the use of private campaign funds and public resources by candidates.
Detailed information about key election-related requirements are provided below. Highlights:
- North Dakota and South Dakota created study committees to recommend changes to their campaign finance bills.
- Maine, Michigan and Washington passed restrictions on the use of public funds or resources during campaigns.
- Arizona and Delaware redefined election cycles for purposes of tracking contribution limits to political campaigns.
- Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee amended their definitions surrounding independent expenditures and PACs.
- Maryland, Michigan, and North Dakota prohibited foreign nationals from making contributions or expenditures in elections and ballot initiative campaigns.
2017 Key Election-Related Enactments
- California altered its Online Disclosure Act to permit certain localities to enforce their own campaign finance ordinances (S 267).
- North Dakota established a commission to study costs surrounding the administration of and campaigning for ballot initiatives in the state and report on recommendations (S 2135).
Changes to Definitions Relating to Contributions and Expenditures
- California amended its definition of contribution to include payments made at the behest of a candidate committee (A 867).
- Delaware harmonized its definitions of election cycles for all contributors (H 139).
- Hawaii excluded from its definition of contributions certain information about one campaign distributed by another campaign, or distributed jointly (H 279).
- Kentucky raised its contribution limit to $2,000 and required it to be indexed for inflation in the future (S 75).
- Maryland expanded its definition of “coordinated” expenditures to include cooperation, consultation, understanding, agreement or concert (H 529).
- Oregon expanded its definition of “communication in support of or in opposition to a clearly identified candidate or measure” to include any expenditure in excess of $750, any expenditure that references a candidate or political party, or any expenditure within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election that is directed to the general public (H 2505).
- Rhode Island redefined the terms “conduit” and “earmarked,” and recognized PACs and political party committees as lawful recipients of minimal cash contributions (H 5947).
- Rhode Island repealed its aggregate contribution limits, which were unenforceable per the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC (H 5947).
- Tennessee redefined PACs to include any group of people receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $1,000 per year for or against candidates (S 1265).
Changes to Crimes and Civil Penalties
- California made violating certain disclosure provisions in its Political Reform Act punishable as a misdemeanor (A 249).
- Colorado amended its complaints procedure around improper filings to change the amount of time to remedy violations (H 1155).
- Hawaii increased to $75 its fine for failure to file financial disclosure statements in a timely fashion, and required its state ethics commission to publish the names of individuals who failed to file their reports by the statutory deadline (H 852).
- Maryland altered its civil penalty provisions for violations of campaign finance laws to make treasurers of PACs, people making independent expenditures, and supervisors of people who made independent expenditures jointly and severally liable for reporting violations (H 1498)
- Maryland amended its penalty for violation of prohibitions on coordinated expenditures to 300 percent of the amount of the expenditure (H 898).
- Maryland prohibited foreign entities and individuals from making contributions to ballot issue committees or contributing to people who make independent expenditures (S 130).
- Michigan passed sentencing guidelines for criminal violations of its new omnibus campaign finance bill, which it also passed this year (see “One of a Kind” legislation below) (S 336).
- North Dakota prohibited campaign contributions from foreign nationals, entities, governments, parties or other organizational entities (H 1234).
- Oregon assigned liability to political or petition committee treasurers for failure to properly register and report on expenditures (S 225).
- Texas prohibited lobbyists from making or authorizing expenditures from certain contributions collected on behalf of candidates after the candidate they were intended to support has vacated office (H 505).
- Utah made it a class B misdemeanor to conspire to make a campaign contributions through one or more persons to circumvent disclosure requirements (H 52).
Changes to Disclosure Requirements
- California amended its Political Reform Act to change disclosure on aggregate contributions and independent expenditures (A 187).
- Kentucky raised its threshold for filing candidate campaign finance reports to $3,000 (S 75).
- Montana added a requirement that campaigns file post-election finance reports no more than 20 days after Election Day (H 207).
- North Dakota removed a requirement that required statements accompanying out-of-state contributions to ballot initiative campaigns in excess of $100 be certified by the state (H 1362).
- North Dakota altered its definition of “contribution” to include payment of advertising by parties or other committees and to include in-kind contributions, as well as institute new pre- and post-election reporting requirements on parties (S 2343).
- Oregon permitted the disclosure of public email listservs used by legislators to their campaigns or their challengers’ campaigns, upon request (H 2874).
- Texas exempted certain contributions made to principals of state executive committees of political parties on behalf of judicial candidates from reporting requirements (H 3903).
- Utah repealed provisions requiring corporations that made political expenditures to report on financial statements their primary donors and to notify donors of how their gifts were being used (S 275).
- West Virginia required any current or former legislator who has a fundraising event while the Legislature is in session to disclose its existence and the source and amounts of all contributions within five days of the event (H 2319).
E-Filing: Public Databases and Mandatory Online Filing
- Arkansas directed its secretary of state to set up a searchable database for the public to view campaign finance filings (H 1427).
- Arkansas added requirement that campaign finance reports be filed electronically, with some exceptions (H 1010).
- California updated its Online Disclosure Act to direct its secretary of state to develop an online filing process for use by candidates and entities, and to “conspicuously” post links to this on his or her website (S 358).
- Hawaii requires its elections commission to publish the names of all candidate and non-candidate committees that fail to file a report, or correct a report within two weeks of notice of a violation, on its website (H 281).
- Idaho adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and required electronic filing of campaign finance reports (H 188).
- Texas guaranteed the confidentiality of information stored on remote computers temporarily as they are prepared for public distribution on local government websites, to provide time to correct errors before disclosure (H 998).
Use Restrictions: Public Resources and Private Contributions
- Arizona redefined the election cycle to refer to the calendar year of a general election, rather than the two-year span between general elections (H 2486).
- Maine prohibited funds distributed to candidates from the Maine Clean Election Fund from being used for post-election parties (S 135).
- Michigan enacted an omnibus campaign finance bill that touched on contributions, expenditures, reporting, segregation of funds, use of public funds for political purposes, and regulation of gifts and payments (S 335).
- Mississippi prohibited the use of campaign funds for personal use and set new restrictions on the disposition of unused campaign funds (S 2689).
- Rhode Island laid out the ways in which a deceased candidate, officeholder, former candidate or former officeholder may dispose of funds still in their committees (H 5709).
- Utah prohibited people from using the emails of public entities to solicit campaign contributions (H 160).
- Washington permitted legislators to keep their official websites active through Election Day in election years but prohibited them from adding or removing content except when the Legislature is in session (H 2106).
One of a Kind Legislation
- Iowa repealed its income tax checkoff for the Iowa election campaign fund and repealed the election campaign fund (H 242).
- Maine directed its governor to change the supervisory requirements candidates must demonstrate to qualify for public funding under the Maine Clean Election Act (H 326).
- Maine prohibited a PAC from providing compensation to a legislator if he or she is an individual primarily responsible for raising contributions or making decisions for that committee (H 387).
- South Dakota repealed a 2016 ballot initiative passed by voters that made sweeping changes to the state’s campaign finance laws (S 54 and S 171).
- Tennessee required that campaign funds be deposited in financial institutions insured by the FDIC that are authorized to do business in the state (S 377).