House panel backs audits of all campaigns spending more than $175K

A House committee voted Tuesday to require audits of all future legislative campaigns that involve spending more than $175,000 – a figure that would catch almost all Senate campaigns but few in the House.

The House Local Government Committee approved the provision in an amendment offered by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Timothy Wirgau, R-Buchannan, who is also sponsor of the bill (HB992). The amendment and the overall bill were approved on voice vote after brief discussion, including questioning of Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

As approved in Senate committee, the bill would increase the number of random audits conducted by the Registry of Election Finance. Currently, the Registry selects 2 percent of legislative campaigns for random audits; the bill would raise that to 4 percent. That part remains in the House version with the $175,000 provision as an extra.

Rawlins said the Registry could handle the increase in random audits without hiring new staff. But he said that audits of all campaigns spending more than $175,000 would increase the agency’s spending (either through hiring another staffer, overtime or some combination of the two). There’s no fiscal note yet on the new amendment.

Senators have four-year terms and districts three times as large as House members, who must seek reelection every two years. Rawlins said the amendment would mean an extra 15 to 20 audits, almost all of Senate campaigns.

The move could set up the second clash of the House and Senate over pending campaign finance legislation. Earlier, the Senate added a provision to another campaign finance bill (HB16) that would double the amount of PAC money senators could collect in a four-year election cycle. The House has refused to go along with that amendment to the original bill, which eases some restrictions on fundraising during legislative sessions.

In other words, the House is moving to require audits of virtually all senators’ campaigns (but few in the House) while the Senate is moving to let senators – but not House members — collect more PAC money. This raises the possibility that both proposals could flop or that a great compromise could occur to let both win approval.

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