This article originally provided by
December 28, 2005
Senator pushes publicly funded races
By The Associated Press
Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler believes West Virginia voters have had
it with excessive special interest spending on elections and it’s time to try
publicly financed campaigns.
A voluntary system, he said, would free candidates from raising money so they
could focus on getting their message out to voters.
“I find it a bit distasteful and nearly obscene that people are spending
$100,000 to get elected to a job that pays $15,000,” said Kessler, D-Marshall.
During the legislative session that begins Jan. 11, Kessler’s committee will
consider a pilot project that would allow candidates to use public money to run
their 2008 political campaigns if they agree to abide by certain rules. Kessler
said he isn’t sure if the pilot would be used for judicial or legislative
The Legislature has been considering variations on such a plan since 2002,
but Kessler said it may have a better chance next session because of publicity
surrounding political corruption scandals.
For example, former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is under indictment
in Texas on charges of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to
2002 legislative candidates.
“It’s been successful in many other states,” Kessler said. “It is not
mandatory. Those folks that choose to do it actually had a very high success
rate getting elected.”
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell earlier this month signed legislation that
establishes a voluntary publicly funded election system in that state.
Connecticut’s Legislature is the first to pass such legislation for all
statewide and legislative offices.
Maine, Vermont and Arizona have measures enacted by ballot initiative,
although Vermont’s applies only to statewide offices. North Carolina has a
system that applies to judicial races. New Mexico has publicly funded campaigns
for a business regulatory commission. And New Jersey has a pilot project for two
legislative districts, said Rick Bielke, communications director for Public
Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C.
“I really think the American public is sick and tired of elections being
about donors and not voters, and they do want clean elections,” Bielke said.
Kessler said his committee likely would use a previous year’s bill as a model
for the West Virginia legislation.
But a coalition of groups supporting publicly funded campaigns will have
someone introduce a new bill, said spokeswoman Julie Archer. The West
Virginia-Citizen Action Group, environmental groups, the ACT Foundation, AFL-CIO
and the Council of Churches are proposing a system for legislative candidates.
Under their proposal, candidates in single-member House districts would have
to get $5 donations from 100 people to qualify to receive $7,500 in public money
for a primary and an additional $7,500 for a general election. If they choose to
accept public money, they could not accept any more donations or spend any of
their own money, Archer said.
If the candidate was outspent by an opponent not participating in the
publicly funded system, he or she could receive more money, up to three times
their original allotment. The amount would vary according to how much the
Candidates in multimember House districts and senators, because they
represent more people, would have to obtain more $5 donations and would receive
more public money.
The amount of donations and spending allotments would vary by district.
House candidates also could raise up to $2,000 and Senate candidates $5,000
in $100 “seed money” contributions during the period before a campaign when they
are deciding whether to run. The coalition doesn’t want a pilot project before
enactment. Their bill would go into effect in 2010 for single-member House
districts and in 2012 for other legislative candidates.
“The idea for delaying it is to get it in place and have time to work out the
rules and regulations and allow time for money to build up into the fund,”
Secretary of State Betty Ireland supports any measure that would encourage
more people to run for office, but has no position on specific proposals because
she has not reviewed them, said her chief of staff, Ben Beakes.