WV Clean Elections Update by Julie Archer
February 4, 2005
Making Elections Fair and Clean in West Virginia
The Select Committee on Campaign Finance Reform has recommended two proposals that would help make elections fair and clean in West Virginia. One would create pilot project to provide full public financing to legislative candidates who agree to limit their spending and reject all private donations. This voluntary, "voter-owned" system would reduce candidates' dependence on special interest money and let them focus on interacting with voters rather than fundraising. The "WV Fair and Clean Elections Act" is modeled after laws in Maine and Arizona, where it is now the political norm to run for office free of direct dependence on private campaign contributions. The pilot project would provide public funding to candidates in two Senate and three house races and is the first step toward making this alternative source of funding available to all candidates for elected office in West Virginia.
The interim committee also recommended legislation which would make statewide and legislative elections comply with the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act or McCain-Feingold law which prohibits the use of "soft-money" in election-related communications. It is an important effort to undertake, because the McCain-Feingold ban on unlimited "soft money" donations going to the federal parties has spurred the advent of new vehicles for special-interest money, like the 527 groups And for the Sake of the Kids and West Virginia Consumers for Justice, which both spent millions in an effort to influence the outcome of West Virginia's Supreme Court race.
The bill would prohibit corporations from financing "issue ads" that target candidates shortly before a state election; and would require significant levels of disclosure from the sponsors of an electioneering communication that names a candidate but previously escaped regulation by stopping short of expressly advocating the candidate's election or defeat. The legislation would also limit contributions to 527 groups that attempt to influence the outcome of statewide or legislative races to $2,000 during any two-year election cycle. West Virginia already has limits on contributions to candidate committees, PACs and state party committees.
Because there are so many ways for special interests to influence our elections, efforts such as these should be applauded. Members of the Select Committee should be commended for their efforts to protect our democratic process from the undue influence of special interests and help candidates and those who want to be involved in politics to have a level playing field. Committee members are: Senators Chafin, Hunter, Oliverio and Facemyer; and Delegates Ennis, Caputo, Lane, Mahan, Miley, Pethtel, Howard, and Schoen. Over the next eight weeks we'll keep you up to date as these two bills make their way through the legislative process.