This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

October 12, 2004

Ireland priorities: Updated voting machines, anti-fraud

By Phil Kabler
Staff writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN - Republican secretary of state candidate Betty Ireland told legislators Monday she supports public financing of campaigns, but said it would not be her top priority if she is elected next month.

Ireland said her top issues would be compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act to modernize voting machine technology statewide, and to crack down on election fraud in Southern West Virginia.

"I don't want to ever take campaign finance reform off the table," she told a legislative interim committee studying the issue.

She said West Virginia might do well to see what measures other states adopt for public financing of campaigns and select the best practices of those states for West Virginia's legislation.

"We do not have a history of going gently into new procedures," she said of past election reform efforts.

Democratic challenger Ken Hechler was campaigning in Mercer County on Monday, and could not attend the interim meeting. He provided a prepared statement to the committee, strongly supporting publicly financed elections in West Virginia.

"Clean-election bills have had a dramatic and positive effect in Maine, Vermont and Arizona," he stated. "In 2002, Arizona elected a female governor and fresh, new legislators under the new system."

Hechler's statement concluded, "The legislative winners all testified that they could concentrate on the issues instead of wasting time raising campaign funds."

Ireland said one problem with publicly financed campaigns in West Virginia is that citizen contributions are unlikely to be sufficient to finance elections for candidates participating in the clean campaign act.

"We don't have enough money in the general revenue fund to do public financing of campaigns adequately," she said.

Julie Archer, with Citizens for Clean Elections, said she has looked at several state funding possibilities.

Those include using a portion of annual general revenue surplus that currently goes into the state's "Rainy Day" fund, using proceeds from the sale of surplus property - those proceeds currently go to the agency selling the property - or dedicating a portion of the funds set aside for the legislative Budget Digest.

Also Monday, committee members debated whether the state has any authority to regulate the explosion of negative ads sponsored by 527 committees. Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, said the ads sponsored by "And For The Sake Of The Kids" attacking Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw are "making a mockery of election laws in the state."

Chafin, a trial lawyer, said he would like to see a way that candidates under attack by 527 committees could be released from campaign fund-raising limits in state election law.

"We have handcuffs on him [McGraw] with $1,000 [maximum] contribution. I'd very much like to help him, but I can't," Chafin said. "One court candidate should not be handcuffed, while the other has powerful friends."

Ireland said she expects Congress to modify the McCain-Feingold Act in light of the abuses by 527 groups nationally.

"I'm against the 527s - My party would string me up to hear me say that," she said. "I think it skirts the intent of campaign finance reform. That being said, it's a federal issue."

Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, and Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, asked committee staff members to research the ability of the state to regulate, or at least increase financial disclosure requirements for 527 organizations.

That issue will be on the committee's November agenda.

To contact staff writer Phil Kabler, use e-mail or call 348-1220.

Voter-Owned Elections

Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246