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Should Individuals Be Able to Donate More to Kentucky Statewide Campaigns?

capitol
Kentucky state Capitol

Kentucky lawmakers are considering a bill that would double the amount individuals can donate to candidates for statewide office.

The bill would increase the amount from $1,000 to $2,000 during an election cycle and allow individuals to give as much as $2,500 to state political parties, as well as affiliated committees.

The amounts would also increase with inflation.

The law would take effect on July 15, during the middle of Kentucky’s campaigns for governor and other statewide offices.

If it becomes law, the timing  of the policy would burden her office, which is in the process of trying to hire a new executive director, said Emily Dennis of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, which keeps records of campaign donations.

“If they’re going to raise it let’s do it in a way that’s clean let’s not do it in the middle of an election cycle," Dennis said, adding that the policy could confuse the public.

The legislation is one of a handful of bills that the House and Senate are trying to hammer out in a joint conference committee in the legislature’s overtime-period. The General Assembly prefers to pass bills before the governor’s required veto session, which began on Thursday.

The bill has support from House and Senate leadership, but it's unclear whether it can be passed with only a few days left in the 2015 session.

The Courier-Journal reports that individuals were able to donate up to $4,000 to statewide candidates until scandal pushed the legislature to change the law in the mid-1990s.

Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said limits on individual donations over the past decades have given rise to a campaign climate dominated by political action committees and industry.

“They really did not get the money out of politics at all—what they did was they got the people out of politics,” Voss said.

The bill being discussed at the General Assembly a new trend in campaign finance reform, Voss said. Still, the legislation raises eyebrows among critics who say the greater limit is an invitation to bring more money into politics.

“With all the rights that all these other campaign-oriented groups have, people have been shut out of the process a little bit,” Voss said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.