Alabama Gets Tough on Campaign Finance

<p>Flickr – André Natta</p>

Flickr – André Natta

Some good news out of Alabama, where state legislators have recognized that without well-defined regulations and clear enforcement mechanisms, it is impossible to monitor the flow of money into and out of elections. Alabama’s newly amended campaign finance laws prioritize making regulations clearer and more effective.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), fills a major oversight gap by authorizing the nonpartisan Alabama Ethics Commission to enforce campaign finance laws. The Ethics Commission will be granted investigative and interpretative powers, and will be asked to issue formal opinions on election issues. The entity will also have significant punitive authority, including the power to assess penalties for misreporting and recommend prosecution of noncompliant campaigns.

Disclosure rules are also critical for citizens who want to know who’s trying to influence their candidates. The new measures would beef up existing regulations. According to Othni Lathram, director of the Alabama Law Institute and the legislation’s writer, campaigns will now be required to report contributions whenever they deposit the check, or within ten days of receipt.

The Ethics Commission will also be tasked with giving regulatory guidance to campaigns trying to come into compliance with the laws. Empowering candidates to reach out for help, rather than hope their reporting won’t be questioned, is key to preventing finance violations.

“We want to have a law that people who want to follow the law aren’t going to violate by accident,” Lathram explained.  

Alabama joins a host of other states and municipalities in passing campaign finance reform laws, especially those focused on disclosure requirements, like Philadelphia and Illinois.