Call to Order and Roll Call
The2nd meeting of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, at 1:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Damon Thayer, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Representative Darryl T. Owens, Co-Chair; Senators Walter Blevins Jr., R.J. Palmer II, Dorsey Ridley, John Schickel; Representatives Mike Cherry, Derrick Graham, Mike Harmon, Melvin B. Henley, Mary Lou Marzian, Bart Rowland, and John Will Stacy.
Guests: Craig C. Dilger, Registry Board Chairman, and Emily Dennis, General Counsel, Kentucky Registry of Election Finance; James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk & Kentucky County Clerks Association Elections Committee Chair, and Julie Barr, Oldham County Clerk.
Approval of Minutes
The minutes of the August 28, 2012 meeting were approved without objection, upon motion by Senator Palmer and second by Representative Owens.
Campaign Finance Discussion for 2013 Regular Session Initiatives
Craig Dilger and Emily Dennis of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance began the meeting agenda with a discussion of the potential initiatives for the 2013 Regular Session.
The first topic covered was changing campaign finance reporting requirements from the current two tiered system to a single dollar amount threshold that would trigger reporting requirements. Mr. Dilger testified that the current “twin threshold” system exempts candidates that raise or spend less than $1,000 from filing any reports; that candidates that raise or spend between $1,000 and $3,000 are required to file one report after the election; and that candidates that raise or spend greater than $3,000 are required to make all pre- and post-election reports. Mr. Dilger explained that this system is confusing for candidates and results in the Registry expending a great amount of resources to educate candidates on this issue. He also noted that the lower dollar amount single reports do not add a great deal to the transparency goals of campaign finance reporting, but that this requirement occasionally causes candidates running small campaigns to get into trouble for their failure to understand and comply with the requirement. Mr. Dilger and Ms. Dennis, on behalf of the Registry, recommended that the Task Force members consider adopting a single dollar amount threshold that would exempt candidates below the threshold from filing any reports and require full reporting for any candidates that exceed the threshold. Mr. Dilger did not have a firm recommendation for the appropriate dollar amount threshold, but he noted that the $1,000 amount was likely too low given the cost of modern campaigns. The presenters and the Task Force members discussed a range for the threshold from the current $3,000 amount to as high as $10,000 with several members expressing concern over no reports being required if the amount was much higher than in the $3,000 to $5,000 range. Finally, the Registry stated that they were studying how different levels would impact the number of reports that are being filed and noted that a prior campaign finance task force had recommended a single $5,000 threshold.
The next issue discussed by Mr. Dilger and Ms. Dennis was increasing the individual contribution limit per election. Mr. Dilger noted that Kentucky law currently has a $1,000 per election individual contribution limit, but that the Registry has researched contribution limits in several surrounding states and noticed that most limits are higher – and some significantly higher – than in Kentucky. Senator Thayer stated that a good course for Kentucky could be to raise the contribution limit to conform to the federal level and index the dollar amount to inflation, as well as allow married couples to write a single check for both individual’s limits. The Registry did not have a specific recommendation, but Mr. Dilger did note that setting the limit to conform to federal campaign finance law was likely a good proposal to consider from the Registry’s perspective.
Several members of the Task Force posed questions and voiced their opinions and concerns on both issues.
Local Option Elections on Primary or Regular Election Days
The second topic on the agenda concerned the timing of local option elections, and the Task Force heard testimony from Leslie County Clerk, James Lewis, and Oldham County Clerk, Julie Barr on this topic. The clerks began by noting that current Kentucky law requires local option elections to be held on days other than a primary or regular election day, and that this requirement is costly for counties. Ms. Barr testified that Oldham County has had three local option elections in the past fifteen months at a total cost of more than $17,000, and that one of these elections had a 3.6% turnout – 56 votes cast – and cost the county $3,399.92.
Ms. Barr noted that SB 179 in the 2012 Regular Session would have required local option elections to be held on either a primary or regular election day, and both she and Mr. Lewis advocated for that cost-saving statutory change. Copies of SB 179 were passed out in the meeting to the Task Force members for their consideration.
Several members of the Task Force posed questions on SB 179 and voiced their opinions and concerns. Of particular concern was the possibility that a community would desire to have a local option election vote in a year in which no primary or regular election was scheduled, and the county would consequently be forced to wait until the following year to hold the election. The clerks agreed that this could be a concern and had no objection to a bill that would address the issue with a contingency to account for years with no scheduled elections.
A copy of the meeting summarizing these topics can be found in the Legislative Research Commission library.
The business concluded, and the meeting adjourned at 2:15 p.m.