Boffo year for backers of public, campaign record disclosure in Massachusetts

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BOSTON >> It's turning out to be a boffo year for activists pushing for greater disclosure of public and campaign information on Beacon Hill.

Just weeks after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the first major overhaul of the state's public records law in more than four decades, the Massachusetts House has approved a series of bills supporters say will further strengthen campaign finance and disclosure regulations.

One of the bills approved Wednesday on a 142-10 vote would update a 2014 state law that was designed to shine a light on donors to political action committees known as super PACs.

Among other provisions, the 2014 law required that the top five donors who give more than $5,000 to a PAC be identified in that PAC's television, print and large-format internet advertisements.

One of the bills approved Wednesday would expand the top five donor requirement to include certain mailings and billboard advertisements for political campaigns.

Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts who helped push for the 2014 law, hailed Wednesday's vote as a victory for voters.

"Expanding the top five donor requirement will add more accountability and give voters the information they need to make informed choices," Wilmot said.

The 2014 law was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which said that outside groups like super PACs or nonprofits can take unlimited contributions and spend independently to try to sway voters.

Wilmot said a report released this week by her group found that there was a significant decrease in what she called "secret money" between 2010 and 2014 — the statewide election years directly before and after the law took effect.

She said the 2014 law also helped improve the timeliness of campaign finance information, requiring that reports be available before the election, rather than after — as was allowed before 2014.

The changes taken together allowed voters in 2014 to see much more campaign finance information than was accessible in 2010, she said.

A second bill approved by the House would require that political committees reporting in-kind contributions must include the name of the candidate they are supporting or opposing.

The change would allow contributions to be tracked in real time, according to backers of the bill. Currently the information is required only in end-of-year reports, which are made public after the election.

The third bill would change the campaign finance calendar for candidates who run in a special election and a general election in the same calendar year.

These candidates would be allowed to receive up to $1,000 in individual contributions between Jan. 1 and the special election and up to an additional $1,000 between the day after the special election and Dec. 31.

"An open and functional democracy requires constant vigilance when it comes to campaign finance laws," Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement.

The public records law signed by Baker this month — and approved unanimously by the Legislature — requires state agencies and municipalities to respond to public record requests within 10 days.

It also seeks to limit how much an agency can charge for producing the records.

The bills approved this week by the House now head to the Massachusetts Senate for consideration.

Online: http://bit.ly/28TgZ49


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