January 13, 2006
Commentary by Julie Archer
"Clean" Can Be "Green"
While there may be no such thing as "clean coal," the term "clean elections" isn't as far fetched as it might seem. With corrupt officials in southern West Virginia, including members of one of the most prominent political factions, being indicted and pleading guilty to vote buying charges, the passage in September of landmark "527 reform," and the "WV Public Campaign Financing Act" gaining momentum and support in the legislature, there is hope for the future of elections in West Virginia.
The "WV Public Campaign Financing Act" -- also know as the "Clean Elections Act" -- would create an alternative public financing option for candidates to the state Senate and House of Delegates. Unlike, last year's proposal - a pilot project that applied to only a handful of districts - this year's bill would make public financing available to qualified candidates in all Senate and single-member Delegate districts beginning in 2010, with candidates in the remaining House districts becoming eligible to participate in 2012. The basic concept, however, remains unchanged. Candidates qualify by collecting a specified number of $5 contributions from registered voters in their district. In exchange for receiving public financing, candidates agree to limit their spending to those funds, using none of their own, and accepting no private contributions.
This voluntary option would allow a greater number and variety of candidates to run for office, as ultimately reduce the role of special interests in political campaigns, as well as the influence they have on public policy. In West Virginia, polluting industries, like coal, oil & gas and timber are among the biggest contributors to our elected officials. Since 1996, coal alone has contributed over $4 million to candidates for governor, the state Supreme Court and the legislature, and coal has been rewarded handsomely in return in the form of tax breaks and other favorable legislation. This is why our efforts to continue to advance Clean Elections are so important. The Clean Election concept is a comprehensive approach to campaign finance reform that makes other reforms possible.
Although, it may seem inconceivable that a legislative body would pass a bill, perceived by some to be against their own best interest, the Connecticut legislature made history in December when it approved full public financing of legislative and state-wide races. Arizona and Maine, the nations pioneering "clean elections"states adopted public financing through the initiative process. This recent victory in Connecticut is another sign of hope, and with any luck perhaps West Virginia will be the next state where Clean Elections take root.