This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

February 18, 2005


Clean elections - Noble undertaking

REFORM-MINDED West Virginia activists are pushing “clean election” bills in the Legislature to remove special-interest money from campaigns by providing public funding. It’s a noble attempt to stop big-money tainting of politics, which allows large donors to obtain law changes and government favors they desire.

One version, Senate Bill 91, declares that today’s huge campaign donations “effectively suppress the voices and influence of the majority of West Virginia citizens in favor of a small number of wealthy special interests.” It says gifts from those interests “cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in the form of subsidies and special privileges granted to large campaign contributors.”

S.B. 91 would give public campaign cash to candidates who choose the “clean election” route. After they raised a certain amount of seed money in small donations, they would be eligible for campaign funds from taxpayers, and would be forbidden to take special-interest gifts.

Another version of the reform, described in a Thursday op-ed commentary, would launch a pilot plan applying to just three House of Delegates seats and two in the state Senate. If a House candidate obtained signatures and $5 donations from 75 registered voters, the candidate would get $7,500 public funding. A Senate candidate would need 200 voters, and would get $20,000 from taxpayers.

We see only one possible flaw in this plan: It might allow special-interest groups to put candidates on the ballot, letting them run on public funds. Consider this scenario:

In a 2,000-member fundamentalist church, the pastor might declare from the pulpit: “We have 10 members who would be good legislators because they’re against abortion, gays, evolution, strippers and sex education. For each one, we need 75 volunteers to give $5.” Within minutes, enough donations and signatures could be collected to put all 10 on the ballot, ready to campaign on taxpayer money.

Other West Virginia groups — National Rifle Association, United Mine Workers, Ku Klux Klan, teacher unions, Coal Association, Mountaineer Militia, NAACP, gay pride society, etc. — likewise could draw upon members for signatures and token donations to qualify chosen candidates for public funding.

Advocates of the clean election plan say such ballot-packing hasn’t occurred in other states that have adopted public campaign funding. That’s encouraging — but we hope lawmakers find a way to reduce the possibility.

Supporters of this reform have the highest motives, and deserve praise. Today’s big-money politics is almost a system of bribery in which large donors help their favorites win election then gain government favors in return.

Voter-Owned Elections

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