With last fall’s election fresh in their memories, many legislators are proposing changes to the election process. In-person voting, prepaid postage on ballots, and relaxing constituent outreach restrictions for incumbents could all become a reality if the measures pass. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, wants to loosen the rules about what information he and other state lawmakers could put on their official websites and in their official newsletters during campaign season. Benton said during a public hearing on his proposal, Senate Bill 5019, that although some restrictions are necessary to prevent campaign abuses, other restrictions are “completely ridiculous” and prevent his ability to communicate with the people in his district. State law prohibits legislators running for election to make any changes to their official Web pages during the months leading up to an election. (Most candidates maintain a campaign website, the content of which they can control.)
Incumbents also are limited in the amount of official mail they can send to constituents. Legislators are allowed to send two newsletters about the legislative session during a campaign year, and there are rules for what can be put in those newsletters. The second newsletter can’t be sent out any later than 60 days after the legislative session ends.
The bill Benton is proposing would lift those campaign regulations. It also states that “legislators have complete discretionary control of the content, text, language, and format of newsletters, subject only to budget limitations.”
“Frankly,” Benton said, “I’ve been here 18 going on 19 years, and I get increasingly offended by staff, who may only have been on the job six months or less, telling me what I can or cannot say in a newsletter to my constituents, who have elected me to represent them, and I am trying to communicate with them.”
During the hearing, some lawmakers on the Senate Governmental Operations Committee said they were concerned that the bill was too broad in what it would allow legislators to include in their state-funded newsletters in a campaign year. Benton said he’ll try to narrow the bill so the newsletters would relate only to a lawmaker’s legislative duties.