Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Sen. Damon Thayer both firmly believe the state should require all candidates for office in Kentucky to electronically file their finance reports to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF). But after twice failing to gain approval by the Kentucky House of Representatives of Senate-approved bills, requiring candidates who raise more than $25,000 to file electronically, Thayer has modified his bill to require only statewide candidates to file electronically.

If that small step forward is all Thayer believes can gain the approval of the House and become law, then so be it. Progress in Kentucky usually comes in small, baby steps instead of giant leaps forward.

While less than ideal, Thayer’s Senate Bill 62 would strengthen the state’s campaign finance law by including many of the recommendations of a bipartisan task force named by the KREF. That task force completed its work nearly two years ago, but like so many other task forces appointed in Frankfort, its recommendations have so far fallen on deaf ears.

The bill would require candidates for statewide offices to file an additional campaign finance report 60 days before the primary election in May and require all state and local candidates to file an additional campaign finance report 60 days before the general election in November. However, unlike the bills Thayer sponsored in 2007 and 2008 which would have required all candidates raising more than $25,000 to file electronically, SB 62 would only require statewide candidates to file electronically.

The Campaign Disclosure Project, a nonprofit organization that tracks campaign finance laws in the U.S., has criticized Kentucky’s failure to require electronic filing as a “weak point.” Largely because of that, Kentucky — which ranked in the top 10 in 2004 for its campaign finance laws — is now ranked 21st by the Campaign Disclosure Project.

“Clearly, Kentucky’s Achilles heel in campaign disclosure is mandatory electronic filing,” said Grayson, the state’s top election official. “However, we have to be realistic. Many members of the House have had problems with the provision requiring all candidates who raise $25,000 or more in a cycle to file electronically. While this is something we strongly believe is necessary, we can’t let perfect become the enemy of good. We must move this legislation forward.”

In previous years, legislators have expressed concern that some candidates — particularly older ones in rural counties — may not have access to a computer or the skills necessary to file a finance report electronically. We think that’s just an excuse to vote against a good bill.

In this electronic age, it is difficult to believe any candidate in Kentucky would not have access to a computer. Most pubic libraries provide such access. And if they lack the skills to use a computer to fill out a campaign finance report, they certainly can find someone to help them do so.

Instead of electronic filing being the stumbling block to prevent House approval of Thayer’s bills in 2007 and 2008, we think those bills have become just one of many victims of the extreme partisanship that has dominated recent sessions of the General Assembly. Regardless of their merit, bills sponsored by key Republicans in the Senate have never been brought to a vote in the House, and bills sponsored by Democrats in the House have died without a vote in the Senate.

New House Speaker Greg Stumbo said those political games will not be tolerated under his leadership, and Senate-approved bills will receive a fair hearing in the House. SB 62 — which has yet to be passed by the Senate — is a test of whether things really have changed in Frankfort.

To be sure, many voters pay little or no attention to campaign finance reports, but those who do can learn much about the candidates from their contributors. The earlier such information is received, the better. SB 62 would increase transparency in government and would provide voters with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Trending Video