BOSTON — The Massachusetts House overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday that supporters say would shine a light on donors to super PACs.
The bill would also double the amount an individual could donate to a candidate in a calendar year from $500 to $1,000. The $500 limit was put in place 20 years ago.
Under the legislation, which passed on a 143-4 vote, super PACs would be required to disclose their contributors within seven days of running an ad.
Under current law the first campaign finance filing deadline for super PACs isn’t until Sept. 2 – just eight days before the primary.
The legislation would also require the top five donors who give more than $5,000 to a PAC be identified in that PAC’s ad.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, outside groups like super PACs or nonprofits can take unlimited contributions and spend independently to sway voters.
Rep. James Murphy, House chairman of the Election Laws Committee, said the bill is a direct response to the Citizens United decision.
“While we cannot stop the influx of money to our local races as is protected by the United States Supreme Court, we can certainly shed light on those shadowy groups and require them to disclose where their dark money is coming from and how it is being spent,” the Weymouth Democrat said.
Super PACs operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign committee. Donations to the political committees are often undisclosed, leading critics to refer to them as “dark money.”
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Massachusetts Common Cause, also praised the bill.
“We need real time discloser of these donors,” Wilmot said. “The 2014 elections are going to blow every record on super PAC spending.”
Wilmot said her group didn’t support the decision to double the donation limit to candidates from $500 to $1,000.
The bill now heads to the Massachusetts Senate, which passed a similar disclosure bill in 2012.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been at least eight super PACs formed in Massachusetts, according to filings with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Some of the committees – like the Massachusetts Teachers Association Independent Expenditure PAC – indicate which group is behind the PAC.
Other PACs have more oblique titles – like the Massachusetts Spirit Independent Expenditure PAC. The stated goal of that group is to “promote LGBT candidates and equality” in Massachusetts.
Still other PACS with nondescript-sounding titles – like the Massachusetts Forward Together Independent Expenditure PAC – are designed to support a specific candidate. In the case of the Massachusetts Forward Together PAC, that candidate is Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Steven Grossman.