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STATE HOUSE: House panel OKs campaign rules changes

02/27/2014 11:59 AM

02/27/2014 12:57 PM

As the Senate debates a sweeping ethics reform proposal, a House panel moved ahead six bills to change campaign rules.

State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, a Richland Republican elected in 2012, sponsored the bills after what he "noticed was some gaps" in campaign reporting. He said he met with a House lawyer and an executive of League of Women Voters on the fixes.

His bills call for a 30-day period for lawmakers to fix problems, ending the use of cash by candidates to pay bills or voters to make contributions, and using campaign funds to pay ethics fines. Many politicians, including Gov. Nikki Haley, have used to campaign cash to pay breaking spending rules.

Finlay said he wanted "more clear and concise laws so lawmakers know what they can and can’t do that won't get them in trouble. ... People are going to make mistakes. The filings are complicated."

Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, called Finlay's proposals more meaningful than the debate over ethics reform in building public confidence and ends the "gotcha" attitude over simple mistakes.

Alerting lawmakers to errors and giving them 30 days to correct puts them on notice, Finlay said. He said those warnings should be public.

"And if they don't (fix problems), we have another set of issues," he said. That means the House and Senate ethics committees would deal with more serious cases instead of ones for minor violations.

Allowing credit cards and checks to pay any expense, rather than just those above $25, shows “we’re desperately trying to bring outlaws to 2004,” Finlay said. Also the ending petty cash withdrawals should provide a better paper trail, he said. The panel debated a ban on cash contributions after Rep. Walt McLeod, D-Newberry, said some voters do not want to write checks.

“Twenty-five dollars allows them to feel they are participating in government,” he said. “For people with modest means, we need them to be involved.”

Finlay said some campaign events have bowls where people can make small cash donations, but sometimes contributors might drop more than $25 -- threshold where they must be reported on election reports.

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A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to Follow The Buzz @buzzatthestate. Follow Cassie @cassielcope. Follow Jamie @jamiemself. Follow Andy @andyshain.

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