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SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 2005
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OP-ED

Sunshine in campaign finances

By State Reps. Randy Hinshaw
and Jeff McLaughlin

There is an old Alabama saying that when a dry county has a wet vote, the bootleggers get behind the preachers, quietly.

That in a nutshell is the problem with Alabama politics today: Voters often don't know who backs one side of an issue, a particular candidate, or even a political party. There is a veil of secrecy over much of Alabama politics because the public cannot find the source of some critical political money.

Recent revelations indicate more than $1 million flowed from out-of-state Indian casinos to anti-lottery groups in the 1999 lottery referendum, the bulk of it going to the Christian Coalition. The Christian Coalition denied it at the time, and the money went unreported and unknown to Alabama voters.

It was important for citizens to understand that Mississippi gambling interests were weighing heavily on how Alabama funds schools. Yet under current law exempting non-profit groups, there was no requirement that the Christian Coalition let the people know. This is wrong, and something needs to be done about it so it doesn't happen in the future.

This past legislative session we sponsored significant campaign finance reform legislation that stops hidden money and injects needed sunshine into Alabama's political process. The Hinshaw disclosure bill would require that all groups file where their funding comes from when they participate in politics, regardless of non-profit status. Making non-profit political groups disclose where they get their political money makes sense and is basic fairness.

Elected officials like ourselves must report where we get campaign contributions, and traditional political action committees representing industries and groups also report their finances. And that is the way it ought to be: Voters deserve to know where political money comes from in order to make an informed decision.

The McLaughlin PAC-to-PAC transfer ban would halt political money laundering that occurs when money shifts from one political action committee to another. When money shifts multiple times from committee to committee, it makes it impossible for voters to find its original sources. Stopping transfers increases transparency, and the clearer the information, the better informed voters will be.

While neither bill passed during the recent legislative session, significant progress was made on each. It was only a temporary victory for the special interests. Alabama citizens know campaign finance reform is critical to moving our state forward, and we will reintroduce both bills again as soon as possible.

Shadows and concealment hurt the political process. Real campaign finance reform will bring needed sunshine to Alabama politics and let everyone know who is really behind an issue or campaign.

Rep. Jeff McLaughlin is a Democrat from Guntersville. Rep. Randy Hinshaw is a Democrat from Meridianville.

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