Sierran Masthead

Indiana General Assembly Denies Campaign Finance Reform

By Julia Vaughn

Despite widespread public support for comprehensive campaign finance and lobbying reform, the 1996 General Assembly chose to punt when presented with the opportunity to significantly change the way political campaigns are financed and how the Legislature operates.

Instead of passing comprehensive reform, the General Assembly spent a lot of time posturing on the issue and in the end, passed a minimal bill that can hardly be called reform. The General Assembly did create a study committee to spend the summer researching ways to reform the campaign finance system, but rather than appoint advocates for reform as committee members, the Republican legislative leadership chose to pack the committee with political insiders closely associated with the two major political parties in the state.

In order to create an atmosphere where politicians feel they must take steps to eliminate the negative influence of big money on the electoral and legislative process, concerned citizens must step up the pressure at the grassroots level, especially in this election year.

Two state legislators from Evansville have been leaders on the campaign finance issue at the State House. State Representative Vaneta Becker and State Senator Greg Server, both Republicans, introduced very similar bills during the 1996 session. The Becker (HB 1193) and Server (SB 200) bills would have placed the same limits for political action committees that currently exist in Indiana law for political contributions from labor unions and corporations. They would also have placed a $1000 per candidate limit on contributions from individuals, as well as increasing the requirements for disclosure of information about contributions by labor unions and corporations. Becker's bill would have required disclosure of all contributions, regardless of size.

News accounts of the failure of two legislators to properly disclose their economic interest printed during the last two weeks of the session brought a renewed interest by legislators to do something in the area of campaign finance, lobbying, ethics, etc. The last week of the session saw a flurry of activity surrounding HB 1193, which became the home for the nominal reform attempted by the legislature this year.

Campaign finance provisions included in HB 1193 were the computerization of the campaign finance reports at the State Election Commission (a long overdue and very citizen-friendly provision), the creation of the above mentioned campaign finance summer study committee, and a loophole-filled ban on political contributions from the gaming industry.

While Citizens' Action Committee and other reform advocates were disappointed by the appointments to the study committee, they intend to work with the committee over the summer to try to get the best possible recommendation drafted into legislation for 1997. Such legislation should include contribution limits on Political Action Committees and individuals; increased disclosure about the source of contributions and more frequent disclosure; voluntary spending limits coupled with partial public financing from dependable and varied sources; strict limits (or bans) on contribution from lobbyists and regulated industries; provisions for limiting out-of-district contributions; no fund-raising during the legislative session; no gifts or freebies from lobbyists; and establishment of an independent and nonpartisan ethics board to investigate complaints.


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Summer 1996