HELENA - State Sen. Roy Brown on Friday pitched a pair of bills he said would shed more "sunshine and light bulbs" on the political process, by electronic reporting of campaign donations and abolishing post-election money funds that politicians can use for "constituent services."
"In the long run, I think the public will feel much better about how we're doing things," he told the Senate State Administration Committee.
Brown, a Billings Republican, is sponsoring Senate Bill 227, which requires the electronic and additional filing of campaign reports, and Senate Bill 239, which abolishes the constituent-services accounts.
SB227 would require candidates running for statewide office to file electronic monthly reports of their campaign donors and spending, beginning in March of an election year. Candidates would have to file two reports in both May and October, which are months before an election, and quarterly reports the year before an election.
Under current law, candidates file three fewer reports during an election year and file the reports on paper with the state Office of Political Practices. Reports on gubernatorial campaigns or other prominent office can run into the hundreds of pages.
Under SB227, campaign reports would be public knowledge more quickly and more frequently, he said.
His second bill would abolish constituent-services accounts as of July 1.
Current law allows legislators and other state officeholders to use leftover campaign funds to set up the accounts, which can be used to help pay for various actions responding to constituent requests.
Candidates who create such accounts must file quarterly reports on how the money is spent, and they cannot raise additional funds for the account.
However, the 2007 law regulating the accounts did not abolish any existing accounts at that time. Political Practices Commissioner Dennis Unsworth said after the hearing that he doesn't know who may still have an old, unregulated account.
Brown said the accounts, while legal, are viewed negatively by the public and press, which have referred to them as "unregulated slush funds," "unregulated flow of money" and other derogatory phrases.
Kate Cholewa of Montana Common Cause said her organization supports SB227, to create electronic campaign reporting for statewide candidates but is neutral on the second bill.
However, she said Montana Common Cause be-lieves constituent-services accounts, properly regulated, "can be of value to officials serving their constituents."
If the intent is to get rid of unregulated accounts that may still exist, an ethics complaint could be filed against someone who holds one, Cholewa said.
The Senate panel took no immediate action on the bills.