Last year, we used this space to call for action on a particularly unexciting subject: campaign finance reports.
While Wyoming law requires political candidates and their committees to publicly disclose the money they’ve received and spent, there really aren’t any penalties for those who fail to play by the rules.
In the last election cycle, candidates who forgot or chose not to file their reports got one reminder email from the secretary of state’s office and … well, that was basically it.
One local lawmaker was between four and six months late with his campaign finance reports; he filed them after the Tribune brought attention to the missing reports, explaining it had been an oversight.
Although current Wyoming law lays out scary-sounding penalties — including being prohibited from seeking office until the required reports are turned in — it doesn’t appear that anyone has actually ever gotten in trouble for failing to file the required documents. And that’s unfair to the majority of candidates who take the time and trouble to detail their campaign’s finances.
“There’s no need for lawmakers to create a draconian system that hammers candidates for being a day late or a dollar short with their campaign finance reports,” we wrote last May. “But some kind of enforcement is needed to ensure a level playing field for candidates and voters alike.”
Campaign finance reports illuminate the role of money in our elections process. Although they rarely contain explosive details, we believe the transparency they provide is important and valuable.
Thankfully, the Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee worked on the current campaign finance laws over the past year.
In November, the committee voted to sponsor what’s now known as House Bill 2, “Election law violations-penalties and enforcement.”
The proposed legislation would clear up the current murkiness over how authorities should handle it when candidates are late with their finance reports.
Under the draft bill, when a contender misses the deadline on a report, they would get a notification from the county clerk or secretary of state’s office, saying they have 14 days to turn in an accounting of their campaign’s finances.
If the candidate or committee doesn’t get their reports in within that two-week span, they’ll face a $500 penalty (if they’re a candidate for state office) or a $200 penalty (if they’re running for a local office). The candidate will then have 20 days to protest the fine by “showing good cause for a failure to file a report.”
The draft bill also lays out a much clearer process for investigating and prosecuting violations of the state’s elections code.
We appreciate the work the elections committee and legislative staff put into House Bill 2 — especially considering it’s not the most exciting of topics. On Tuesday, the House voted 58-2 to introduce and consider the bill this budget session.
Certainly, the Legislature has bigger tasks before it — namely, putting together a balanced budget — but we hope lawmakers take the time to pass this worthwhile set of reforms to our state’s campaign laws.