Response to election financing editorial in The Dominion Post
February 2, 2005
On January 13, you ran an editorial about proposed legislation for a pilot program of public financing of state elections. The key point you never mentioned is that this legislation is intended to reduce the role of money in elections. Under our current system, the candidate that spends the most wins, 90% of the time. Thus, with few exceptions, successful candidates for public office are either rich or they're beholden to the rich and to corporations. They must repay this debt, in the coin of political favors and these favors come at the expense of the public interest, necessarily. If the public paid for elections here, we'd save money, because those favors often rip us off financially. Small business pays more taxes, because big business has the money for lobbyists, so they can arrange to cut their taxes and increase their subsidies. People running small businesses, which create the most jobs, haven't got either the time or the money to go off to Charleston wining and dining and cultivating legislators. So they, and ordinary citizens, pay more taxes to subsidize the big businesses.
Last year the chair of the WV Senate Health and Human Resources committee blocked a vote on a bill that would have linked drug prices to the federal supply schedule. This chair had received $3,750 from pharmaceutical companies, and the rest of the committee had gotten $48,050. For less than $50,000, the drug companies blocked a bill that could have saved West Virginians $500 million!
In 2002, the coal industry donated $236,540 to Wise's inaugural, and over $100,000 to House members. Governor Wise pushed hard to raise the weight limits on coal trucks, and the House passed the bill, despite overwhelming public opposition. The WV Division of Highways estimated a minimum of $2.8 billion for road and bridge upgrades if weight limits were increased. Truck fees pay a small part of that; we pay the rest.
These examples show that campaign contributions are very good investments for industry. We, the public, need to make this kind of investment if we don't want to keep paying much more heavily in other ways. In Arizona and Maine, where they have full public financing, they now have more contested elections, higher voter turnout, more minorities in office and innovative programs impossible elsewhere, like health care for everyone in Maine.