- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - House Democrats and Republicans agreed to double how much money people can donate to political candidates, potentially raising the stakes for the November elections that could determine who controls state government.

Politicians from both parties combined for a 71-22 vote to increase individual campaign contribution limits to $2,000 per person, from $1,000. The increased limits take effect July 15.

The Kentucky House is the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats. But Republicans could seize control for the first time since 1920 if they pick up enough seats in November.

Democrats have a 50-46 advantage now, with four vacancies. Special elections are scheduled for March 8 to fill those vacancies, but the new contribution limits will not apply for those races. If Republicans win all four, they will share power with Democrats for the rest of the year. All 100 House members are up for re-election in November.

Kentucky lawmakers tightened contribution limits after a federal investigation in the early 1990s led to the conviction of 21 state lawmakers and lobbyists for bribery and influence peddling. The limits have not been raised since 1996. Meanwhile, elections have become more expensive, forcing candidates to rely more on personal wealth or outside groups to fund modern campaigns.

“Elections where candidates are not able to compete financially put them at a great disadvantage,” Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo said.

But some Democrats opposed the bill, with state Rep. Tom Riner of Louisville saying the bill puts democracy on the auction block while state Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville called it a “lazy politician bill” because it allows candidates to raise large sums of money with just one phone call.

“Is (this bill) helping your constituents? Is it helping Kentucky?” Democratic state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo said. “I can’t and I won’t vote for political greed.”

The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled state Senate, where Senate President Robert Stivers said it is likely to pass.

Although Democrats and Republicans mostly agreed campaigns needed more money, they could not agree on something far simpler: adjourning and going home. Twice the House refused to adjourn late Monday afternoon, as Republicans and some conservative Democrats were upset with leaders using House rules to force an adjournment instead of taking up an anti-abortion bill.

The brief, yet contentious, standoff highlighted the tension between the two parties as they stagger toward the special elections next month and the general elections in the fall.

“(House Democrats) don’t want to give us an opportunity to say things that are important to the people of Kentucky,” House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover said. “The only way they can do that is to circumvent the rules and try to keep us quiet.”

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