The South Carolina House Campaign Finance Subcommittee is trying for more transparency when it comes to the flow of money to candidates and groups which support them.
The study subcommittee’s chairman Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, said it’s not what the cause is or where an individual stands, but the public’s right to know where they get their financing. “What’s important is, if people are spending money in an organized fashion to advocate for an individual or an idea, that we have some idea where that money is coming from,” Finlay said at a subcommittee meeting Thursday.
Members of the subcommittee also looked at the issue of what are broadly defined as political action committees, or PACs. However they are viewed, Finlay said court rulings have declared they are protected by the First Amendment and controlling them would be difficult.
However, he said one step that can be taken is the elimination of “leadership PACs,” which are those committees that have ties to members of the House. These PACs cannot donate to their organizer’s campaign, but can make donations to other House or Senate members. For example, now-former House Speaker Bobby Harrell had ties to the Palmetto Leadership Council PAC during his time as Speaker (Harrell consistently maintained it was not technically a “leadership PAC” since it was run by his chief fundraiser).
“We can’t go after anything other than that which we can control in the boundaries of South Carolina.” Finlay said at Thursday’s meeting. The subcommittee voted to recommended a ban on leadership PACs. The recommendation will be taken up at the larger House Rules Committee meeting and must be approved by the House once it new session begins after Election Day.
The state Senate has had its own ban on leadership PACs for three years, but House leaders have been reluctant to give up their own. A handful of other prominent House members used to have their own PACS, but have dropped them since ethics reform began getting more Statehouse attention since 2012. An ethics reform proposal that cleared the House this spring would have eliminated leadership PACs and required independent campaign committees to disclose their organizers (the measure failed in the Senate).
In South Carolina, PACs have little regulation beyond the $3,500 limit they can donate to a particular candidate (the same limit in place for any other individual or business). The organizers of such groups are not required to disclose their donors or their organizers, and have no limits on what they can spend or receive.
A PAC is a type of organization that pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaign for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation. PACs can take the form of all most any type of organization at the federal or state level, but cannot technically have organizational ties to the candidates they support.
The legal term PAC has been created in pursuit of campaign finance reform in the United States. This term is quite specific to all activities of campaign finance in the United States. At the federal level, an organization becomes a PAC when it receives or spends more than $2,600 for the purpose of influencing a federal election, according to the Federal Election Campaign Act. At the state level, an organization becomes a PAC according to the state’s election laws.
Matt Long contributed to this report