This article originally provided by Charleston Daily Mail

October 3, 2005

Ireland seeks help on finance laws

Lawrence Messina
The Associated Press

Facing a major update to West Virginia's campaign finance laws, Secretary of State Betty Ireland is asking election players for help.

As West Virginia's chief elections officer, Ireland must craft the rules that flesh out a bill Gov. Joe Manchin signed on Friday.

Among its provisions, the new law requires financial disclosures from people or groups that attack or praise a political candidate shortly before an election. It also requires so-called 527 groups to register with Ireland's office before they collect or spend money in the state. It further sets a $1,000 cap per election -- or $2,000 per election cycle -- on what an individual can contribute to a 527 operating in West Virginia.

Ireland, a Republican, plans to form a committee of interested parties, including labor unions and the state Chamber of Commerce, to help her write the rules. She also plans to invite West Virginia Citizen Action Group, which has lobbied the Legislature for election and campaign finance changes.

"A lot of different groups have different viewpoints on this bill," said Ireland, who hopes to assemble the committee this week. "We want to get all the stakeholders together so we can get some input."

The legislation includes at least one provision that Ireland had sought from lawmakers during this year's regular session. It requires candidates, political action committees and the newly regulated "electioneering communication" efforts to keep receipts and other financial records for six months after an election.

Ireland said the measure should help her office resolve disputes that arise over contributions or expenses listed in the reports those campaigns file with her office.

"If we see something we need to take a look at, we can call the individual or the organization," she said.

The provisions addressing 527 groups, named for the section of the Internal Revenue Service code that governs them, may prove the most vexing for rule-making. As they seek to regulate groups that already report to the IRS, and as they include a contribution limit, these provisions could face a legal challenge.

"The Legislature felt that they needed to clamp down on these 527 groups," Ireland said. "It really isn't up to me to make a policy decision as to whether 527s are good or bad."

Ireland must also write rules for the new reporting requirements for people or groups, other than candidates and political action committees, that spend at least $5,000 to sway voters 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.

Such electioneering communications could include radio, television or print ads, flyers, billboards, phone calls and mass mailings. The provisions also carve out several exemptions, including news coverage, debates or candidate forums and a voter's guide or scorecard, as long as they list all the candidates for a given office and do not appear to endorse or oppose any of them.

Voter-Owned Elections

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