Recently, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee teamed up with Senate President Paiva Weed and House Speaker Gordon Fox to propose legislation that would mandate full disclosure of previously unregulated political expenditures. With an eye toward Rhode Island’s upcoming election and promoting values like transparency and accountability, the legislators worked with reform groups like Common Cause and Democracy Matters to draft the much-needed legislation.
Despite this widespread support, the legislation has faced opposition at both Senate and House hearings. But opponents are misguided.
The Brennan Center fully supports the proposed legislative efforts. Rhode Island is taking an important step in creating a system that promotes transparent elections.
Among the provisions, the legislation calls for reporting of “independent expenditures” and “electioneering communications,” in line with the type of disclosure condoned by the Supreme Court and lower courts. Additionally, strengthened disclaimer requirements would reveal more information about who is funding the increasingly ubiquitous political advertisements. The legislation also provides a way for nonprofit groups to protect non-political donors from disclosure, while still reporting to the public the sources of the money they spend on political activities.
Elected officials should pass the proposed legislation without delay. In the words of Senate President Paiva-Weed: “Campaign finance disclosure is absolutely vital to the health of our representative democracy.” We agree.