Alabama legislators who have been studying state election laws say there’s a problem: Candidates for state offices have to report their contributions and expenditures to the secretary of state, but little is being done to make sure the reports are filed accurately. The solution could be to create a small state agency similar to the Federal Elections Commission. Since taking control of the Legislature in 2010, Republicans have enacted major changes in Alabama’s election laws, including requiring candidates for state offices to disclose their contributions more frequently and to file them electronically to make it easier for voters to search the donations. State law requires candidates to file their reports with the secretary of state, but that office is simply a collector of the reports. And that’s where a problem exists, said Republican Sen. Bryan Taylor, of Prattville. “There was nobody charged with monitoring campaign reports,” said Taylor, chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Campaign Finance Reform.
Another committee member, Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, said a glaring example of the problem is easily found among losing candidates. After losing, some never file the campaign finance reports that are due after an election. “But there is nobody there to throw a yellow flag,” Orr said.
The committee is developing a bill for consideration during the Legislature’s 2014 session, which starts in January.
With the current system, a candidate will review an opponent’s campaign finance reports and speak out if there is a potential problem, but no one is looking closely at those with no opposition, Taylor said.
Also, if people have a complaint, they can go to a district attorney or the attorney general, but the legislators said that often doesn’t lead anywhere if the complaint involves a minor infraction.