Just say "more disclosure" and reporters and editorial writers start salivating like Pavlovian dogs. But like any other legislation, the devil's in the details. So when it comes to Sen. Pridemore's PAC bill (Here's the text of Senate Bill 5021), it's important to look at what it actually proposes.
Right off the bat, one can't help but notice that the bill's sponsors signal its deficiencies and onerous nature by exempting political parties PACs from it -- if it's so good, why exempt such a huge segment of political activity from it?
They can wrap their legislation with 'disclosure' wrapping paper, but what's inside SB 5021's gift box is what we'll be living with forever unless serious scrutiny and analysis is brought to bear.
Moxie Media is rightly being politically and legally crucified for their actions, but Senate Bill 5021 doesn't just apply to them, it would affect everyone and so it must be evaluated on its own merits.
Let's start with the basics: the First Amendment to the US Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ... or the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The 14th Amendment applies this to state and local governments.
Senate Bill 5021 is just such a law and in section 4 it tells people and groups what they may or may not call themselves. How can this not violate the First Amendment? Under current law, when a PAC is formed, the person or persons forming it fill out and file a form, called a C1PC, which discloses the PAC's name, its organizers' names and addresses, email addresses, etc. Donations to it or expenditures from it are disclosed. But under the First Amendment, they have the freedom to name themselves what they want, in the same way that newspapers are free to call themselves what they want, businesses are free to call themselves what they want, unions are free to call themselves what they want, and politicians can name their PAC's whatever they want. How can the government pass a law that tells people and groups what they can call themselves?
The way section 4 is written, it is also unworkable: it requires the people and groups to be put in the name of the PAC. Most PACs have many, many participants (we had 14 co-sponsors with I-1053). How can a PAC's name possibly include all the names of its backers? Also, PACs gain support over time -- Initiative 1100 (liquor) eventually received financial backing from Costco but that was months after it was filed. Even when it comes to committees for and against a candidate, something we're much less familiar with, SB 5021 says the PACs name "must include" "the candidates' name, party affiliation, and the office sought, and the election year." Do we really want/need PAC names that are 30-50 words long?
Over the past few months concerning I-1053, we've been highlighting the difference between having decisions made by accountable elected representatives versus unaccountable unelected bureaucrats. Senate Bill 5021 picks bureaucrats over electeds when it comes to dealing with bad violators. Bad violators like Moxie Media should be handled by the Attorney General who is publicly elected and therefore accountable to the people, rather than unelected bureaucrats at a state agency like the PDC. The PDC's role is to collect information from PACs and disclose it to the public. Limited fining authority for them is appropriate to encourage PACs to comply. But the power to prosecute bad violators is rightly vested with the Attorney General. Remember, the PDC bureaucrats wanted to settle the case with Moxie Media -- increasing their fine-imposing authority will only empower an unelected, unaccountable state agency. The Attorney General's power to prosecute and secure fines is rightly not limited by law. We're not arguing that bad violators shouldn't be punished -- we're simply saying such prosecutorial power should rest, as it does now, with the publicly elected Attorney General.
Finally, lowering the dollar threshold for political activity subject to reporting from $5000 to $1000 seems like overkill. The philosophy has always been: the people have a right to know about those who are significantly donating and spending money on politics. Just the monthly expense of reporting would likely discourage small groups from being politically involved.
Whether it's a shooting in Arizona or a high-profile campaign violation by Moxie Media, there is an ever-present danger of legislative overreaction. The best deterrent is strong prosecution of those who violate the law. That's exactly what's happening with Moxie Media. It's important to note that government doesn't do its best work when it tries to 'fix' what is undeniably a very rare occurrence. And rarely does the Legislature pass a new law that doesn't create more problems, intended or unintended, than it solves. Some of the changes proposed by Senate Bill 5021 do not seem well thought out.