Governor signs bill for disclosure in political spending

STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski and Sen. Juan A. Pichardo has been signed into law to help provide information to voters about who is behind political messages, a move that is aimed at requiring disclosure by "super-PACs."

The Transparency in Political Spending Act (TIPS) requires individuals and organizations that engage in "independent expenditures" and "electioneering communications" to report donors and expenditures to the Rhode Island State Board of Elections and to include disclaimers on media and Internet advertising. The legislation (2012-H 7859B, 2012-S 2569A) is aimed at the "super-PACs" that formed following the Supreme Court Citizens United decision that ruled that the First Amendment protects corporations' and unions' right to fund independent political messages.

"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. We now have a situation where corporations and other outside groups can pour unlimited funding into advertising in elections, and voters wouldn't even necessarily know the source and its interest in the outcome of the election. This doesn't say they can't spread their message; it just says they have to identify themselves to the public," said Representative Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence).

Said Senator Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence), "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 legislation, which was submitted on behalf of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, was developed in collaboration with Common Cause Rhode Island and was cosponsored by House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed, would require that any group (as defined under the act) that spends more than $1,000 in Rhode Island to support a candidate or a political issue must report that expense to the Board of Elections. It also requires groups that engage in electioneering communications to report all donors who have contributed $1,000 or more in the previous year.

The legislation defines "electioneering communications" as print, broadcast, cable, satellite, or electronic media communications not coordinated with any candidate, authorized candidate committee or political party committee that unambiguously identify a candidate and are made within 60 days of a general or special election or within 30 days of a primary election and can be received by 5,000 or more persons in the constituency. It defines "independent expenditures" as expenditures that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and that are not coordinated with any candidate's campaign, authorized candidate committee or political party committee.

The sponsors said the issue should be of particular concern to Rhode Islanders, because the small size of the state could make it easy, in relative terms, for a well-funded super-PAC to exert its influence over local interests.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457