Thanks to what is being called “Rhode Island’s DISCLOSE Bill,” Super-PACs and other political groups in Rhode Island are now required to report donors and expenditures. Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the bill, known as the Transparency in Political Spending Act (TIPS), to increase the information available to voters.
State Representative Chris Blazejewski, a co-sponsor of the bill, is quick to point out that the legislation does not limit expenditures or donations in any way:
“Without infringing on anyone’s right to express their views, this legislation provides the public with information about whose message it is that they’re hearing… This doesn’t say they can’t spread their message; it just says they have to identify themselves to the public.”
State Senator Pichardo, another co-sponsor of the bill, finds knowing who is funding a message is essential when trying to evaluate the claim:
“This is about transparency. People have to be able to consider the source of the information they are hearing about issues and candidates during any campaign. It makes a big difference about whether they think the message is valid. For example, Rhode Islanders may hear a lot of advertising relating to the casino questions on the ballot in November. Voters should know whether the ads they’re seeing were paid for by someone with a stake in Twin River, for example, or someone who would benefit if the casino questions failed, like casino operators in Connecticut or Massachusetts. It makes a difference to the voter.”
The law forces any organization that spends more than $1,000 to support a candidate or a political issue within 60 days of an election or 30 days of a primary to disclose their donors and expenditures. Any group engaged in “electioneering communications” has to disclose information on their expenditures as well as donors of $1,000 or more. This law may apply to several organizations already spending to influence the election in Rhode Island, many who do not disclose donor information.
The US Chamber of Commerce, which has an ad endorsing Brendan Doherty, the Republican challenger for a U.S. House of Representatives seat, will have to disclose its donors if it decides to air its ads within 30 days of the primary on September 11th.
The same will be true for an ad run by Americans for Common Sense Solutions, attacking the Democratic incumbent in that race, David Cicilline, and a $3,000 expenditure from the Human Rights Campaign in support of Cicilline.
The law will not directly limit expenditures by Super-PACs and other political organizations, but it may have the same effect. The Chamber of Commerce and other large national organizations may stray away from ad buys or other expenditures in Rhode Island now that the law is passed. If they believe disclosure could threaten their funding from big national donors who wish to remain anonymous, it might be safer for them to keep their money out of the state. And if laws like this Rhode Island disclosure measure are passed in other states this year, the campaign finance world could be radically reshaped.
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