Miller's meaningless election reforms Status quo: Senate president wants to keep fund-raising lists buried under piles of paper.

March 19, 1997

YOU'VE GOT TO hand it to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller: He knows how to maim a well-intentioned bill. He took a bipartisan effort to reform state election law by computerizing fund-raising reports and turned it into a joke.

Politicians now file their fund-raising and spending reports knowing that it is virtually impossible to review and spot violations among the 6,000 lists filed every year by candidates. The reform bill called for statewide candidates to file computerized reports this November, and legislative candidates to do the same by 1999.

Then Mr. Miller got involved. He had portrayed himself as a reformer by submitting his own package of bills. Last week, though, he dictated to a Senate committee new language that makes filing computerized lists strictly voluntary. Anyone with something to hide, or who wants to avoid too much public scrutiny, can do so thanks to the Miller amendment.

The Senate president also set up a situation that will make matters for the state election board worse, not better. Under the Miller plan, candidates can have the board do all the data entry for them. This not only creates a mind-boggling situation with 6,000 fund-raising reports being keyboarded, but it guarantees a long delay before the public views this information.

And Mr. Miller refused to create any civil penalties for election-law violations -- a severe weakness in current law.

On top of all that, he proposed a new loophole for lobbyists and legislators to avoid filing disclosure statements of gifts when attending "special events." That's a grand way to open the floodgates for new abuses. The goal should be to build fire walls between lobbyists and lawmakers, not tear them down.

We are, frankly, disappointed in the Senate president's performance. He misled reformers and instead waited for the right moment to defend the status quo and the old b'hoys network.

It will be up to the House to fashion a true reform bill, one that gives the public quick and easy access to fund-raising reports and puts real teeth in the enforcement of election laws. By the time the bill reaches a conference committee, perhaps Mr. Miller will once again have a change of heart.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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