Massachusetts campaign finance regulators are on the verge of lowering the amount unions can donate to state political candidates.
The Office of Campaign and Political Finance released draft regulations Monday that would decrease the amount of money a union can contribute to a candidate from $15,000 a year to $1,000 a year.
“It’s important that we have consistent contribution limits that are applied across the board and without big exceptions, so this makes sense in that context,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, which supported the change.
Under state law until now, unions and trade associations were allowed to contribute up to $15,000 to a candidate. Individuals can contribute up to $1,000 and businesses cannot contribute anything.
Two business owners who are active in the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, founder Rick Green and board member Mike Kane, challenged the ban in court. They argued that businesses and unions should be subject to the same campaign finance restrictions.
The Supreme Judicial Court upheld Massachusetts’ ban on corporate contributions, but noted that Massachusetts state law is unclear regarding the different treatment of unions.
The $15,000 union limit was based on an interpretive bulletin, and Common Cause Massachusetts, a government reform group, wrote to the OCPF after the SJC ruling urging the office to reconsider that limit through a traditional rulemaking process.
That rulemaking process, which included a public hearing, resulted in the draft regulations released Monday, which would limit annual union and trade association contributions to $1,000 to a candidate, $500 to a PAC and $5,000 to a political party.
“We are pleased to see the union loophole get dramatically smaller,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “This will result is more competitive elections and more equality in campaign finance law.”
The Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Teachers Association had urged OCPF to keep the higher contribution limits for unions. Spokesmen for both organizations could not immediately be reached for comment.
OCPF will hold a public hearing March 15 on the draft regulations and release final regulations in May.
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