When Hal Heiner decided to run for mayor of Louisville, Ky., patent attorney Theresa Camoriano knew it was time to get serious about local politics. Theresa’s interest in politics had been growing for years, spurred on by both several run-ins with local bureaucrats and a general sense of frustration that government officials were not responsive to the citizens for whom they work.
In her spare time, this budding political entrepreneur took her first foray into activism by publishing The Jefferson Review, an online newsletter critiquing government overreach. Encouraged by her growing readership, Theresa’s desire to make her voice heard only intensified.
So Heiner's candidacy was welcome news: Here was someone running for office who shared Theresa’s views on the appropriate role of government and had a track record on city council to back it up. Theresa volunteered for Heiner’s campaign, handing out bumper stickers and flyers, but she wanted to do more. She wanted to tell voters about Heiner’s humility, trustworthiness and strength of character—messages not part of his official campaign, but things she knew to be true from years of knowing him.
To spread this message, Theresa and other Heiner supporters wanted to pool their money to buy radio ads. But under Kentucky’s campaign finance laws, like those of most states, this kind of political speech is illegal—unless they jump through a maze of legal hoops.
Under Kentucky’s regulations, joining with others to pay for independent speech supporting a candidate would make Theresa a “campaign committee” that must register with the Commonwealth, and designate a chairperson, treasurer, and a bank account for committee funds. She would then have to keep detailed financial records and report to the state for six years—even though she only wants to buy ads for the six weeks prior to the election.
Kentucky piles even more paperwork on any “campaign committee” that spends (or even plans to spend) more than $3,000 on political speech. That is barely enough to cover one month of radio ads on one radio station. In addition to quarterly reports, Theresa would have to file two pre-election and a post-election report detailing all the money the “committee” receives and spends, including itemizing every single expenditure over $25 and providing the name, address, occupation, and employer for every person who gives more than $100 to the cause.
The paperwork required is as complex as income tax schedules and anything but straightforward. Although the state’s elections agency publishes a 140-page candidate guide and a 108-page handbook for another kind of political organization, it gives no guidance to “campaign committees” like Theresa’s on how to comply with the law. It is up to the group to figure it all out, even though any mistake could mean stiff civil penalties.
For a political newcomer like Theresa working on this in her spare time, all this red tape is daunting: “As an attorney running a patent practice with my husband, I simply don’t have time to wade through all these regulations. And the fact that even making an innocent mistake could get me into trouble has scared me off from getting involved.”
Under the false moniker of ‘campaign finance regulation,” Kentucky has silenced Theresa. Without the money to buy enough radio spots on her own to make a dent in the public debate or the time and expertise to wade through Kentucky’s regulations, she has been forced to forego one of the most effective means of voter advocacy and convert her radio ad into a blog entry. Even with her readership, Theresa’s blog doesn’t reach as many people as radio ads aired during the morning and evening commute would have reached. She asked, “If the government can restrict my ability to effectively speak out on political issues, what can’t they do?”