The Act increases campaign transparency and streamlines financial reporting
BOSTON, SEPT. 26 – State Representative Bill Driscoll Jr. (D-Milton) voted with his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass an Act relative to Campaign Finance (H.4072). The newly passed bill seeks to increase reporting transparency and accuracy of campaign contributions and expenditures. The legislation also aims to reduce partisan influence in the state’s independent agency, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF), responsible for administering campaign finance record keeping and laws.
As passed by the House, the bill requires state House and Senate candidates to participate in a depository campaign finance reporting system with the OCPF. Participating in this system will require candidates to report their campaign contributions and expenditures more often and will ensure that any disparities in the reporting are identified by the OCPF earlier in the process. Overall, the new reporting process would enhance transparency and accuracy through the efforts of the candidate’s bank, an independent, third party. If signed by the Governor, Massachusetts would become the first state in the country to have independent, third party disclosure for all state level candidates. Municipal and statewide candidates currently report within the depository system.
Additionally, the bill restructures the current OCPF commission, the body charged with selecting the OCPF director, to remove the influence of political party chairs, further distancing the OCPF from party politics. The current commission is made up of four members, including the state Democratic and Republican party chairs. This bill seeks to change the membership to five members, consisting of the governor, the attorney general, the state secretary, an elected municipal official and an elected county official (both selected by majority vote of the governor, the attorney general, and the state secretary). The campaign finance bill also lowers the voting threshold for appointing a new OCPF director. Currently the commission must vote unanimously in support of its selection; this bill lowers the threshold to four-fifths.
“The current OCPF commission grants too much authority to the state’s political party chairs. What is supposed to be a nonpartisan commission includes two political party chairs and allows them to potentially stall and delay the appointment of a director for this vital office,” said Representative Driscoll. “The OCPF should not rest on the chairs of two political parties, particularly when over 50 percent of Massachusetts voters are unenrolled and do not belong to either.”
Driscoll further emphasized, “We pride ourselves in Massachusetts on keeping an open and reasonable dialog between the two major parties and we often work across the aisle to get things done. But as evidenced by what's happening in Washington and the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the federal equivalent to the state’s OCPF, it is imperative that we maintain the integrity of our electoral system and take nonpartisan positions out of partisan hands. I was proud to work on this bill as Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws and cast my vote to strengthen the OCPF. I believe these changes will be good for our state in the long run.”
In addition to improvements to the reporting process and the OCPF commission make up, this bill also creates a special commission to study the impacts of allowing candidates to use their campaign funds for child care. This provision could contribute to expanding the field of candidates by opening the door to more parents who wish to run for elected office. The rules around this type of expenditure in Federal elections changed last year, making childcare costs an allowable expense for candidates for a federal office.
In his role as Vice Chair, Representative Driscoll worked alongside Election Laws House Chair John Lawn (D-Watertown) to hold a public hearing on the bill and heard from campaign finance compliance professionals as well as OCPF Director Michael Sullivan, who offered reasons for his support. On the issue of child care, Vice Chair Driscoll heard from colleagues who voiced their support of the study and expressed concern that expenses such as renting a tuxedo to attend a function could be billed to a campaign fund as a professional expense, yet child care coverage necessary to attend could not.
The bill now goes to the Senate.