FRANKFORT, Kentucky — Kentucky's race for governor could get a lot more expensive.
The state Senate voted 28-8 Monday to double how much money people can give to candidates in an election cycle. The bill does not impact the May 19 primary for governor, but it would be in effect for the November general election if the House of Representatives approves it. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he supports the bill and the House will vote on it.
If it becomes law, individual donors could give up to $2,000 per candidate instead of $1,000. And that contribution limit would increase over time with inflation, just like donation limits in federal races. It easily passed the Republican-dominated state Senate, where lawmakers said it would "even the playing field" for conservative candidates who they think suffer at the hands of a biased media.
"We don't have the media, where there are no restrictions on, to constantly be getting out our message," Republican Sen. John Schickel of Union said.
But some Democrats voted for the bill as a protest against the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that allowed corporations to spend without limits in trying to influence elections.
"Going from $1,000 per person to $2,000 may not sound like a lot, but in the day when you have billionaires spending unlimited sums of money at least this allows people, individuals, to increase their voice in the process," Democratic Sen. Ray Jones of Pikeville said.
Republicans have been vastly outspent in the past two gubernatorial elections, where Democrat Steve Beshear won easily over incumbent Ernie Fletcher in 2007 and former Senate President David Williams in 2011. Beshear raised more than $7 million in the 2011 general election while Williams raised $1.1 million, records show. Republican Sens. Chris McDaniel and Whitney Westerfield, who are both seeking statewide office, both voted for the bill.
This year, likely Democratic nominee Jack Conway has raised the most money, totaling more than $1.3 million in a campaign that began last May. Republican James Comer is second with a little over $1 million in contributions while Republican Hal Heiner has the most cash available, thanks to the $4 million he loaned his campaign last year.
"Commissioner Comer supports the freedom of speech and the ability for Kentuckians to express their support for a particular candidate through donations," Comer spokesman Edwin King said. "A change in the law would impact all political parties so Republicans and Democrats would still be on a level playing field."
Heiner "believes any campaign finance legislation should increase transparency," spokesman Greg Blair said, adding that he is still reviewing the details of the bill.
Sen. Stan Humphries of Cadiz was the only Republican to vote against the bill, joining eight Democrats who said they could not vote for something that they believed only increase the influence of money in politics.
"I'm not for any measure to expand campaign finance laws to allow those with the most money to buy the most influence," Democratic Sen. Perry Clark of Louisville said. "In essence, bills like these remove the good and common people from the Commonwealth of this state further away from government by the people, for the people."