- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
An altered version of a bill to increase financial disclosure requirements for Charles County political campaigns will return in two weeks after the county commissioners opted Tuesday to revisit it.
The unanimous vote for reconsideration revives an issue first raised last year during a state-mandated revamping of the county ethics laws.
The original measure, which would have required political campaigns to reveal the names of individuals behind donor corporations, was stripped from the county ethics bill but reintroduced Feb. 7 by commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D).
It was defeated 2-3 after intense debate, with Kelly and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) failing to convince any of their three colleagues.
The revised version includes language drafted by Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) requiring campaign treasurers to list the officers of a corporation on finance disclosure forms only if they already know who they are. With the change, treasurers will not have to spend time researching the source of the money, he said.
Collins said he supports transparency, but that the more stringent rules imply that individual donors are doing something wrong in using a corporation to conceal their identity, or that candidates are doing wrong by accepting the money. Corporate donations are legal.
“I’m more than willing to address the issues dealing with any perceived conflicts of interest. I’m more than willing to do that. I’ve never made a decision based on someone making a donation to my campaign,” Collins said in an interview Tuesday.
Public interest in corporate donations is low, Collins said, and those who want to discover the people behind the corporations can do the research themselves.
“The reality is those that are interested in that, they’re going to do that research anyway. Members of the public view that as extremely important, they probably have done that. Campaign treasurers are volunteers and many of them are not as grounded in the politics of a lot of these issues as you and I are. These are people, they don’t know all the players, they don’t know all these things, they’re responding with their best understanding with what the guidelines are with the state. That’s what they’ve been trained to do,” Collins said.
Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) made the motion to reconsider. He said he would support the amended bill.
“It just doesn’t leave you liable in case somebody misses something [while listing corporate officers],” he said. With the original rules, “You almost have to go hunt for that” information, he said.
Rucci supports “all the transparency I can get, but your campaign person, how much work do you have to put them through?” he asked. “If I know the [individual’s] name and take a check, I’m going to give it [on disclosure forms].”
The commissioners will vote Feb. 28 on whether to send the bill to a public hearing.