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Senator seeks tighter election laws

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A state senator who won a tough re-election race wants to rewrite Alabama’s election laws to limit campaign contributions, shed more light on the sources of contributions and punish candidates who lie about their opponents.

“It is regrettable that we have to resort to the passage of laws to make people who seek to be public servants conduct themselves properly in a campaign. But the trend toward more and more negative campaigning and false advertising is so strong that we are now forced into taking what steps we can to curb this trend,” state Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, said at a news conference Thursday.

Witchell won re-election in a campaign where his residency and his support for the military were questioned.

A Republican legislator who has worked on election issues and previously served as staff attorney in the secretary of state’s office said the Democratic senator’s bill contains several popular ideas.

“It’s long overdue,” Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said.

Mitchell’s bill

Mitchell’s bill, prepared for the legislative session starting March 6, would:

  • Make it illegal for a candidate knowingly to make false statements about another candidate, put a spy in a candidate’s campaign, or superimpose a candidate’s photograph into another photograph to create a false impression. A candidate who was targeted could go to court to stop the actions.

  • Prohibit the transfer of money between political action committees. Currently, transfers are allowed and often hide the original source of a campaign contribution.

  • Limit a political action committee’s donations in each election to $25,000 for a candidate for statewide office, $10,000 for a district candidate like a legislator, and $5,000 to a candidate for city or county office. Currently, there is no limit.

  • Limit an individual to making a $1,000 contribution to a candidate in each election. Currently, contributions by individuals are not limited.

  • Start prohibiting individuals who give money to PACs from directing which candidate will get the money.

  • Require, for the first time, that write-in candidates must register with the secretary of state or local probate judge 90 days prior to an election and must comply with campaign finance reporting laws.

  • Punish violations by a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to six months. That would include a candidate who refused to stop making false statements after being ordered to do so by a court.

    Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers probably has its best chance in years of winning approval from the Legislature.

    “Both parties have endorsed it and it has become a symbol of reform,” Hubbert said.

    AEA donations

    The AEA leader said his organization’s PAC normally gives directly to candidates, but it has used PAC-to-PAC transfers when candidates didn’t want to receive the contribution directly. Now, he said, it’s time for candidates to acknowledge where they get their campaign contributions and for groups to acknowledge the candidates they support.

    “Some of us are tried of trying to hide money,” he said.

    Ward said Mitchell may run into trouble with the part of his bill regulating what candidates say about one another, even though legislators who’ve been through tough campaigns will sympathize with what he wants to do.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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