This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

September 1, 2005

Carol Warren and Richie Robb

Deep-pockets influence: Election finance reform could limit negative campaigning

West Virginians have seen firsthand the way big spending can affect an election. The upcoming special session of the Legislature presents a unique opportunity for lawmakers to clear the air before the next election.

Last year’s state Supreme Court race between Justice Warren McGraw and Brent Benjamin proved to be one of the most negative elections in the country. While the candidates raised a record $2.8 million for their own campaigns, outside groups known as 527s raised millions more to pay for independent ad campaigns that plastered the airwaves.

A study by the Justice at Stake Campaign found that five out of every six of those ads were negative. A single individual contributed nearly $3 million to 527 political groups that ran a slew of negative ads.

West Virginia has existing campaign finance laws for a reason. The legislators who put these laws on the books understood exactly what an influx of unregulated money can do to an election. These laws were designed to reduce the undue influence that corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals have on state government through large unregulated (soft-money) contributions. Now 527 groups have come to serve as another means for wealthy individuals to exert unregulated influence over federal elections.

While 527 groups are free to get involved in state elections, we believe it is time they play by the same rules as everyone else, including political parties and candidates themselves. Under those simple rules, these groups must fund partisan activities — like political advertising — with limited, hard-money donations.

Unfortunately, many of these groups exist solely to provide conduits for millions of dollars that state campaign finance laws have purged from elections.

If West Virginia lawmakers fail to regulate 527s, these groups will surely become even more powerful, drowning voters and candidates with attack advertising in future elections. We need our state legislators to have courage to stand up to powerful interests and keep our state’s elections firmly in the hands of the people.

Citizens believe our representatives should answer to the people who voted for them, rather than to those with the deepest pockets. Voters are already concerned that money can so easily buy influence in our political process. Our campaign finance system needs to reflect our values: fair competition, spirited debate and elections that are decided by voters, not just wealthy donors.

After the nasty mudslinging West Virginia witnessed during the last election, and with the continuing unhealthy effects of deep-pocket political contributors nationally, now is the time for our lawmakers to lead the way and strengthen our state campaign finance laws.

Warren heads the Justice & Peace Program of the West Virginia Council of Churches. Robb is longtime mayor of South Charleston. Both are active in Citizens for Clean Elections (, a coalition supporting campaign finance reform.

Voter-Owned Elections

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