By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- House and Senate negotiators broke through on Tuesday night with an agreement on a bill that would force super PACs this election cycle to disclose their funding sources, adding a measure of transparency at a time when these types of campaign committees are already beginning to air ads.
The compromise bill, which was filed Tuesday night, is expected to be considered quickly by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature as lawmakers have less than 48 hours remaining to consider controversial legislative matters and many major bills still unresolved.
While forcing heightened disclosure, lawmakers are also poised to double the maximum individual contribution limit to candidates, including themselves, to $1,000. That change would take effect next year, after the elections.
The bill would require super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money following the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, to disclose the sources of their funding no more than seven days after making an expenditure, such as a TV advertisement. That schedule accelerates to every 24 hours within 10 days of an election.
The groups would also be required to list their top five donors at the end of a television, internet or print ad along with a written statement directing viewers to the website of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance where voters could view a complete list of contributors.
The House and Senate were largely in agreement on the major principles in the bill before it went to conference.
The final bill was negotiated by Sen. Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat who is running for treasurer, and Rep. James Murphy (D-Welymouth), who with Finegold co-chairs the Election Laws Committee. Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), Rep. Linda Dean Campbell (D-Methuen) and Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) signed off on the agreement; the sixth conferee, Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), did not sign the bill.
Multiple super PACs have formed in Massachusetts this election cycle around the gubernatorial and other statewide races. Mass Forward, a political action committee run by friends of Treasurer Steve Grossman, went on the air this week with a new television spot targeting Attorney General Martha Coakley's position on limiting gun sales, touching off a bitter back and forth between the camps over the role of outside money in the governor's race.
The campaign finance conferees were the first of six active conference committees to reach a deal with time winding down for formal sessions. Lawmakers are awaiting resolution on bills that have cleared both chambers dealing with long-term environmental spending, gun laws, economic development, local housing authority oversight and domestic violence.
The compromise bill included a Senate-pushed measure that would require starting in the next election cycle that the secretary of administration and finance write a short statement about the financial impact of proposed ballot questions that would be include in booklets mailed to voters before each state election.
Citizens for Limited Taxation opposed the provision because the group said it was concerned it could be manipulated for political purposes depending on how an administration felt about a particular ballot question.
The bill also allows state party committees to set up legal defense funds, and authorizes statewide candidate committees to donate up to $100 to another candidate. While the bill does not change the maximum cash contribution limit of $50, it does allow contributions of up to $100 by money order or bank check.