Sunday, January 25, 2004

Election agency won't appeal ruling against campaign finance laws

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The agency that regulates the financing of political campaigns in Kentucky decided Saturday night against appealing a federal court ruling that declared many of its statutes unconstitutional.

They included laws that prohibited state candidates from loaning their campaigns more than $50,000 and from taking contributions after an election.

Those rules were devised to prevent wealthy candidates, such as former Govs. Wallace Wilkinson and Brereton Jones, from financing their campaigns with large personal loans, then recouping the money from contributors once they had won.

John Rogers, chairman of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, said an appeal would be expensive, time-consuming and possibly open the agency to lawsuits by candidates now running.

Besides, the General Assembly is in session and could pass new legislation to correct any constitutional problems, Rogers, of Glasgow, said in an interview.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Jan. 16 that seven statutes on campaign finance or on the conduct of elections were overly broad or violated rights of speech and association.

The Kentucky Board of Elections has decided on a further appeal. But its purview is over conduct of elections, not their financing.

Statutes at issue for the Board of Elections include a ban on "electioneering" within 500 feet of a polling place - a ban conceived as a way to cut down on vote buying and voter intimidation.

The federal ruling came in a lawsuit by Hobie Anderson, a Republican and former state representative who ran for governor as a write-in candidate in 1999. He quickly ran afoul of laws that had been devised for much larger, more conventional campaigns.

In addition to limiting what he could loan his campaign and forbidding him to accept post-election contributions, Anderson was prohibited from accepting cash, no matter how small the amount. Nor could his campaign take money - even from himself - in the four weeks prior to election. The law also required his leftover funds, if any, to go into a state fund for public campaign financing.

Jay Fossett, a registry board member from Covington, said he thought the registry should have petitioned the appeals court for a new hearing on the issue of post-election contributions.

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Election agency won't appeal ruling against campaign finance laws