June 13, 2024

State Rep. Morrison adds to call for government transparency with campaign finance bills

State Rep. Eric Morrison (D-Newark) recently filed two bipartisan bills that would help to establish a better system in identifying illegal campaign contributions.

House Bill 291 would require donors to list their job title and employer’s name in campaign finance reports, a practice the federal government and 38 other states already require.

“It really allows the Department of Elections to be able to track that – and that flags it for them, if they see a whole lot of donations coming in from a certain employer,” Morrison says.

He’s is referring to an illegal campaign contribution technique called “pass-through contributions” or “straw donors,” where money is funneled through several people to avoid the donation limit from a single person.

The bill would also eliminate the ability of anyone who makes or accepts a prohibited campaign contribution from donating the money to a designated Title 30 charitable organization.

Morrison explains this intention with a hypothetical: “Let’s say someone donates to me $1000 beyond what they’re supposed to. I cannot then turn around, and instead of giving that money back to the contributor — I cannot go and give that to a charity so that I can get political mileage out of it.”

Additionally, the act would require the Elections Dept. to provide a telephone number and online form for reporting alleged campaign violations, and additionally, the informant must provide their name and contact information — this information would not be considered a public record under FOIA.

Under this bill, the reporting party would not be held liable for a violation if they either return the illegal contribution to the political committee or person who made the donation or pay the overage to the State Treasurer for deposit in the General Fund.

Morrison’s second piece of legislation, House Bill 292, would require the Department of Elections to review every political committee’s contribution and expense report.

Currently, once a candidate submits a finance report, that report immediately appears on the Elections website, but there is no formal review process to monitor campaign finances and expenditures.

“Sometimes, your opposition might go digging through it to see if there’s any violations, but for the most part, nobody looks at these. There’s a flag in the system that says, ‘Hey, this goes over 600,’ but there’s nothing stopping you from hitting submit.”

Morrison is referring to the $600 individual campaign contribution limit state senators and representatives face during an election period.

If the Elections Dept. discovers a violation, the bill directs it to work with the candidate to rectify the violations, and once corrected, the department would post an amended report on their website.

The act would require the department to note a submitted report on their website as either “Submitted but not Reviewed” or “Reviewed and Final.”

The bill would apply to all contribution and expense reports submitted after February 1, 2025 .

These bills are two of several pieces of legislation filed within the past month from both political parties calling for more government transparency and accountability from lawmakers.

Morrison says, per various research groups and agencies, Delaware has annually received anywhere from a “D” to an “F” rating in government accountability, and he hopes bills like this will begin to address that problem.

“We’re always in the very bottom of the states in terms of transparency, and that’s just very disturbing to me. I think the voters deserve better, it really hurts the lack of faith in government and elected officials, and I want to see things happen — concrete things happen, like these bills, to help bring those grades up and to help bring up the confidence of voters in the entire system.”

Both bills await consideration in the House Administration Committee.

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