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The state Senate approved two bills Wednesday aimed at expanding and strengthening Delaware's campaign finance laws.
Both bills were previously passed by the House and now go to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature. His office said the bills represent the most significant campaign finance reforms in Delaware in more than two decades.
"Citizens deserve to know who's trying to influence their vote. For too long, third parties looking to change citizens' minds have been able to hide behind loopholes and a lack of disclosure," Markell said in a statement after the Senate votes. "No more."
Markell's office said the bills represent the most significant campaign finance reform legislation passed in Delaware in more than two decades.
Senators unanimously approved a bill that strengthens disclosure requirements for ads by third-party groups working independently of political candidates to influence elections. The legislation requires third-party groups to disclose the source of funding for independent campaign ads that refer to clearly identified candidates, even if the ads don't urge a vote for or against any candidate.
Under current law, third parties who buy independent campaign ads must file disclosures only if the ads expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate.
The bill requires reports for third-party advertisements that refer to a clearly identified candidate and are distributed within 30 days before a primary or special election, or 60 days before a general election.
The legislation also requires that third-party campaign ads valued at $500 or more disclose the source of funding for the ad and a statement that more information can be obtained at the state elections commission Web site.
"If you spend $500 or more, you simply have to say who you are," said Senate leader Anthony DeLuca, D-Newark, chief Senate sponsor of the bill.
Any third party spending $500 or more on campaign ads would have to report such expenditures to the state elections commission within 24 or 48 hours.
The bill also requires entities that contribute more than $1,200 to a political action committee or party to disclose the name and address of someone who shares or exercises control over the entity. DeLuca suggested that political donors can now hide behind the veil of a limited liability corporation to escape scrutiny.
"There is outlandish spending going on with no accountability for it whatsoever," he said, adding that the bill would move Delaware's election disclosure laws "into the 21st century."
The second bill, approved on a 18-3 vote, increases the penalty for filing a late or incomplete campaign finance reports from $50 a month to $50 a day. It also establishes a penalty of $500 or 25 percent of the cost of the ad, whichever is greater, for anyone who fails to include the "paid for by" disclaimer on a campaign advertisement.
Supporters have acknowledged that anyone penalized for a late or incomplete campaign finance report or noncompliant campaign advertisement could use campaign donations to pay the penalty. But opponents who voted against the legislation Wednesday said they thought a fine of $50 a day for a late or incomplete report was too high.