This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

March 1, 2005

Public-funded elections bill advances

By Tom Searls
Staff writer

Despite the House of Delegates sending the bill back to committee last week, Speaker Bob Kiss still hopes to pass legislation setting up a pilot project to test the viability of publicly financed legislative campaigns.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the legislation (HB2486) on a 12-10 vote Feb. 17 following hours of debate. That sent it to the full House where it gained approval on first and second reading, but was sent back to committee for some additional work.

Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores, D-Kanawha, said problems with how to get funding quickly to participating candidates and knowing how nonparticipating opponents are spending funds are part of the holdup.

“The secretary of state’s office may not have the technicians and manpower availability to respond very quickly,” the chairman said.

The pilot project would be available for two Senate districts and three single-member House districts. Candidates could volunteer to be included.

They would first have to raise $5 donations from individual contributors to qualify. For House races they would need 75 such contributions while in the Senate it could go as high as 350 in Kanawha County’s senatorial districts.

Those qualifying would sign an agreement stipulating they would not accept additional contributions. They would then receive campaign funding ranging from $7,500 in House races to $35,000 in the Kanawha County Senate districts.

Legislative officials believe they can set aside $500,000 for the project.

But the real rub comes from what to do with nonparticipating opponents. Once the nonparticipant spends over the amount the state sets, participating candidates would be eligible for up to 200 percent of their original funding. That money would be used to match their opponent’s spending, but would require late reporting to the secretary of state and quick action.

“We’re going to look at that and try to craft some amendments,” Amores said.

Kiss, D-Raleigh, said he allowed the bill to be sent back to the committee only because Amores assured him it would maintain enough support to emerge back on the House floor.

“Jon swore to me in blood he could,” Kiss said Monday, emphasizing he has no intention of trying to kill the legislation.

Others do. And, that may cause hours of debate in the Judiciary Committee again. “There’s still a good bit of opposition to it conceptually,” said Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha and a Judiciary Committee member.

He opposes the legislation, contending there are many other things the state needs to spend its money on other than publicly funding elections. He has questions about the cost, doesn’t believe in publicly funded elections, but is not sure of the feeling of his colleagues.

“I definitely think if this is going to go forward it needs a lot of work,” he said.

Amores agreed there are “substantive concerns” about how the legislation would operate and has promised a major fix.

Kiss said he has also sent members to make sure there is some interest in passing the legislation in the Senate, so the House will “not be wasting time.”

“We need to at least get some feel from the Senate,” the speaker said.

On the House floor Monday, members passed 92-0 a bill continuing the Public Land Corp.

Following that, the House Rules Committee amended and recommended approval allowing more delegates to sponsor legislation. The current rule limits that to seven, and Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, wanted to have as many as 25 sponsors, pointing out those from a geographic region might want to band together.

Instead, the committee compromised at 11, the number of Kanawha County delegates. The Senate allows all 34 members to sponsor legislation.

The committee outright rejected another Overington proposal that would allow 10 members of a committee to sign a petition that would send legislation directly to the House floor, whether recommended by the committee or not. For 20 years, Overington has sponsored legislation to reinstate the death penalty, most times failing to even get a hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

If it had passed the House, Amores said, “on Wednesday the effects of that would be visited on the Judiciary Committee.”

Kiss objected, too, pointing out that 13 is a majority on a committee and delegates could spend half the legislative session in a “fight over these bills whose time [for passage] has not yet come.”

To contact staff writer Tom Searls, use e-mail or call 348-5192.

Today's schedule


9 a.m.: Transportation Committee

11 a.m.: Floor session

1 p.m.: Health and Human Resources Committee

2 p.m.: Joint House/Senate Education committees

3 p.m.: Finance, Judiciary committees

5 p.m.: Education Committee


9 a.m.: Finance Committee

9:30 a.m.: Judiciary Committee

11 a.m.: Floor session

2 p.m.: Joint House/Senate Education committees

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