Debate on ethics reform is expected to continue in the state Senate when senators return to Columbia on Tuesday. One issue is so called “dark money,” the phrase opponents use for money from out-of-state groups aimed at candidates they don’t like.
Various rulings on the state and federal level in recent years have given more power to independent third-party groups that will run ads and are fairly unrestricted in their fundraising or spending so long as they are not directly associated with any candidate.
Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said he knows very well how it works. “I don’t think anybody in here has had a bigger target on their back regarding the expenditure of third party money than I have,” he said on the Senate floor last week, referring to ads against him in a 2012 reelection run. “I have experienced it up close and personal.”
At issue in the bill before the Senate is whether such groups should have to identify their key members and donors. Supporters of increased regulations on those groups say it helps the public know who is spending large amounts of money in election campaigns. Opponents say it could infringe on the groups’ First Amendment rights if potential donors would be vulnerable to intimidation by public officials once their identities became known.
Martin said that ethics reform is long overdue. “Getting ethics reform through the Senate is about like watching an iceberg melt.” He said he hopes to get it done before the session ends for the year. “We’ve got a meaningful opportunity, a meaningful opportunity to get ethics reform done,” said Martin.
Several lawmakers have said they’re hoping to get more reform accomplished before the legislative session ends.