Tuesday, August 18, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Penalties for violations

Today, ICPR continues its series on the problems with HB 7, beyond the astronomical dollar limits. Earlier posts are here, here, and here.

Suppose you think the dollar amounts you are allowed to contribute in HB 7 are too low. (Stop laughing, this is a serious blog post!) If you wanted to give more money to a committee than HB 7 would let you, what do you do? Let's consider the consequences of violating HB 7.

The penalty section in HB 7 is here (it starts on page 42 of HB 7):

18 (h) Contributions or transfers in violation of this
19 Section. A political committee that receives a contribution or
20 transfer in violation of this Section shall dispose of the
21 contribution or transfer by returning the contribution or
22 transfer, or an amount equal to the contribution or transfer,
23 to the contributor or transferor or donating the contribution
24 or transfer, or an amount equal to the contribution or
25 transfer, to a charity. A contribution or transfer received in
26 violation of this Section that is not disposed of as provided
1 in this subsection within 30 days after its receipt shall
2 escheat to the General Revenue Fund.

That's it. The committee would have 30 days to give the money back, or the state could lay claim to it. Alternately, the committee could give an equal amount to charity within 30 days. The contributor pays no penalty, even if the contribution was knowingly and intentionally excessive. And other than the loss of the excess amount, the committee pays no penalty, even if the committee plotted and planned with the contributor to violate the law.

So what do you do if you need cash for that final push before Election Day? ICPR would never counsel anyone to break the law. But, strictly hypothetically, what if someone did break the law? Here's what happens: If the candidate wins, the committee would have a few weeks to raise enough money from other donors to refund the excess to those who gave illegal contributions, or make a donation to charity. And winning candidates usually have a comparatively easy time raising money from new donors; from a contributor's point of view, the candidate's a sure thing. And if the candidate loses? So what if the state may lay claim to the money; if the committee is broke, there's no money for the state to seize. Dissolve the committee, and there will be no continuing obligations to worry about.

Real reform laws need real teeth. The penalties section in HB 7 needs to be improved.

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