Friday, June 23, 2006

House Passes Campaign Finance Bill

Members of the House approved legislation (HB 1845) that provides additional requirements on how campaign funds may be used, including barring political candidates from using campaign contributions for personal use. The measure would limit a candidate or campaign committee to spending in seven specific areas including running for and holding public office, gifts to charities, contributions to other campaigns, and paying penalties for election law violations. The bill was recommended after press scrutiny revealed that several former legislators had spent campaign contributions on personal uses, including a former representative from Guilford County who spent more than $16,000 on a car and a computer after losing re-election in 2004.

North Carolina is one of only about 10 states that do not limit how politicians spend campaign funds while running for office or after they leave office. The bill is one of 10 recommendations from the House Select Committee on Ethics and Governmental Reform, of which I was a member.

The bill would take effect on October 1, 2006. That way, voters will know if their representative converted campaign contributions to personal use prior to the election. Several efforts to amend the date to January 1, 2007 failed in committee and on the House floor. The bill has moved to the Senate for consideration.

Advocates on the ethics and campaign finance reform issues are concerned that the legislature will run out of time before enacting serious reform. The House has been meeting diligently and we have sent six of the ten recommendations to the Senate, which has not acted on any of the proposals. The House has still to consider tightening up lobbying reform, a public financing pilot project for legislative races, and revamping the regulation of 527s.

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