Chair Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair Rhoads, members of the Committee on Judiciary,
The League of Women Voters opposes SB 2648 which would add another use for surplus campaign funds.
Awarding of scholarships to students attending institutions of higher education is highly commendable. Many organizations to which many of us belong give scholarships annually, both funded by the organizations themselves and by scholarships set up by individuals in their own or others' memories.
Our objection is to the use of campaign funds for these awards. The legitimate use of campaign funds should be its use to provide communications with the public through media advertisements, mailing of brochures listing the candidates qualifications and policies on different issues, making signs, to hold rallies and meetings, buying tee shirts for active supporters, car expenses, office rent, paid staff, etc.
What message does the use of some of the money for donations to charities, community service, educational institutions, recreational programs and organizations impart? Does it really give voters information about the donor?
At one time, candidates could give unlimited amounts to community organizations. However, many of the good government groups opposed the unlimited amounts because of valid concerns over unfair advantages enjoyed by a few. Few incumbents attract the kind of contributions that result in large surpluses. Challengers would also not have the benefit of having distributed donations to their community groups which might earn them their support in the elections unless they happened to have wealth of their own.
Some years ago, these donations were capped at the maximum amount that citizens could give to candidates; $2,000 for the House, $4000 for the Senate, and $6,000 for statewide seats. A Senator could only use $4,000 of his campaign fund surplus to donate to different groups during the election period. We all applauded the change.
However, in recent years, the amounts that could be donated to charitable organizations have been increased, doubled and quadrupled in some cases. This bill adds another cause to which donations from campaign funds can be made.
While part of campaigning is the developing of good will toward the candidate, this can be achieved in ways other than by donations from campaign funds .
The implications of using donations as a campaign tactic is mostly negative. It is construed as seeding the community – a form of vote buying. When a candidate donates instruments to a school band in his district, the favorable publicity buys him/her a lot of good will and gratitude.
This practice and the results are unfair. Those incumbents who are in a position to attract maximum contributions can donate more than others with leaner campaign chests. First time challengers are really put at a disadvantage unless they have money of their own to use.
Another negative impact is the need to raise more and more campaign funds as the cost of campaigning rises with the ever increasing charitable contributions in additiion to the legitimate campaign costs rising with inflation.
We doubt that many legislators relish the soliciting of campaign contributions, but when groups that have become dependent on your generosity count on you to add to their budgets, how can you refuse?
The League of Women Voters has as its motto, “Making Democracy Work.” More and more and nation-wide, we are afraid that we are losing in the shaping of policies and practices that strengthen the public's ability to have a say in government, and to have faith in the actions of government devoted to keeping our country a true democratic nation. And every policy, like keeping our elections fair, adds to the direction we take.
We urge you to hold SB 2648.