WV Clean Elections Legislative Update by Julie Archer

March 18, 2005

Fate of Campaign Finance Reforms Rests with Senate Judiciary

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up SB 245, which is intended to reign in 527 groups like 'And for the Sake of the Kids' and 'WV Consumers for Justice.' The bill would regulate electioneering that masquerades as "issue advocacy" by requiring significant levels of disclosure from legitimate sponsors of an electioneering communication that names a candidate but currently escape regulation by stopping short of expressly advocating a candidate's election or defeat. The bill also imposed limits on what individuals, political action committees, political parties and other organizations can contribute to groups that engage in electioneering communications. After, much debate the bill was sent to a subcommittee, but we hope it will reemerge early next week.

During the debate, Senator Frank Deem muddied the waters by complaining about newspaper adds being run by The Consumer Protection Alliance encouraging members of the public to contact their legislators to urge them to oppose a bill aimed at ending third party bad faith lawsuits. Such ads are not considered electioneering communications and are not regulated by the Secretary of State because of obvious free speech and constitutionality issues. Senator Evan Jenkins stymied the debate by honing in on an exemption in the bill for 501-c-4 tax exempt organizations. This exemption would directly apply to groups like WV-CAG, WVEC and some labor organizations that support the bill, however committee members were unaware that this exemption was included at the request of West Virginians for Life.

Also during the debate, Senator Clark Barnes objected to the bill saying that it would prevent groups from combining their financial resources to go up against those of a multi-millionaire. While on some level, I think Senator Barnes' objective may have been well intentioned, he should realize that, even under the best of circumstances, grassroots advocacy organizations, labor unions and others will never be able to compete with the financial resources of corporate executives and other well-heeled contributors who can afford to finance high dollar media campaigns.

The real kicker may have been Senator Truman Chafin, a sponsor and supporter of the bill, who told the committee, that if they weren't going to pass the legislation they should remove all the contribution limits. He then indicated that at the appropriate time he would like to offer an amendment to do just that. His justification is that it would level the playing field. Senator Chafin needs to hear that the affect of his amendment would be exactly the opposite - eliminating contribution limits altogether would only give more power and influence to the wealthy.

Call Senator Chafin and others committee members and tell them if they are sincere about wanting to level the playing field they will support SB 245, as well as SB 247, which would establish a pilot project to provide full public financing to legislative candidates in two Senate and three House races in single member districts. Neither of these proposals is a panacea, but both would go along way toward reforming our electoral process and making elections fair and clean in West Virginia. Time is running out! Bills must be out of committee in the House of origin next week. Call Senate Judiciary Committee members and urge their support today!

Voter-Owned Elections

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