This article originally provided by
February 8, 2005
Election bills gain committee’s endorsement
Bills intended to require greater financial disclosure and to curb
contributions to so-called 527 organizations, and to launch a pilot project for
publicly financed elections won endorsement from a legislative interim committee
One draft bill recommended by the Select Committee on Campaign Finance Reform
would try to get a handle on the proliferation of ads by groups such as And For
the Sake of the Kids, which bought huge amounts of negative advertising in last
year’s Supreme Court election. The groups are called 527 groups, after the
section of the Internal Revenue Service code that covers them.
Under the bill, any person or group spending more than $10,000 on
election-related advertising would have to file a disclosure with the state
Elections Commission detailing all expenditures over $1,000, as well as the
names of contributors.
Currently, 527 groups have to file IRS reports, but usually not until after
The bill limits individual contributions to all political organizations,
defined in the bill to include 527 groups, to $1,000 per election.
The bill clarifies that there are no limits on what an individual may spend
independently to influence the outcome of any election. That provision — adapted
from a Vermont election law that was recently upheld in a federal appeals court
— anticipates possible legal challenges on the grounds that spending caps
violate free speech protections in the First Amendment.
Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, said he hoped the measure
would restore some trust in the election process.
“It’s extremely unfortunate when one entity can spend millions of dollars
against one candidate. It undermines the process,” he said.
Most notably in the 2004 election, Massey Energy President Don Blankenship
gave more than $2.5 million to And For the Sake of the Kids for a campaign that
targeted state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, who lost his re-election
A second draft bill would set up a pilot project to test the viability of
publicly financed campaigns.
The project would include two senatorial districts and three single-member
delegate districts, as selected by the Elections Commission from districts with
open seats or where the incumbent volunteered to participate.
Candidates wishing to participate would first have to raise enough $5
“qualifying contributions.” The required number of contributions would vary from
75 in House races to 350 for candidates in Kanawha County’s 8th and 17th
Qualified candidates would have to sign an agreement stipulating, among other
things, that they would not accept additional contributions.
Those candidates would receive public funding for their campaigns, ranging
from $7,500 in House races to $35,000 for candidates in the 8th and 17th
Candidates whose opponents were not participating in the public financing
would also be eligible for additional matching funds of up to 200 percent of the
original funding. That money would be used to match their opponent’s spending,
once the opponent exceeded the public financing cap.
Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he believes the Legislature will be
able to set aside $500,000 in the 2005-06 budget for “seed money” to help
underwrite the pilot project.
Delegate Virginia Mahan, D-Summers, said that while she supports the concept
of public financing of elections, she believes constituents in her district will
have a difficult time accepting that funding, “when we’re cutting programs that
benefit children and families.”
Steve White, with the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, said he’s
confident the public will ultimately benefit if candidates are not required to
raise and spend large sums of money to win election.
To contact staff writer Phil Kabler, use e-mail or call 348-1220.