This article originally provided by The State Journal

February 13, 2006

Senate panel endorses publicly funded campaigns

Associated Press Writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Legislative candidates could get money from a new public fund if they agree to certain rules under a bill the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed 7-5 on Monday.

Money from the proposed Public Campaign Financing Fund would be available to Senate candidates and House of Delegates candidates representing single-member districts in 2010, and to all legislative candidates in 2012. It does not affect candidates for other offices.

The system would be voluntary. To get public money, candidates would have to agree to spend none of their own money. They could accept only a small amount of private donations needed to qualify and seed money to "test the waters" before launching a campaign.

Sen. Andy McKenzie, R-Ohio, argued against the bill (SB124), calling it "unAmerican."

McKenzie said the current system makes candidates work hard for support. Allowing them access to thousands of dollars if they meet certain criteria amounts to paying politicians to get elected, he said.

Sen. Russ Weeks, R-Raleigh, noted that he was outspent in his 2002 race and spent far less than he could get in public money under the bill, yet he won.

"I'm a poster boy for the current system. The current system works, leave it alone," Weeks said.

Supporters said the bill would free candidates from raising money so they could spend more time talking to constituents about issues.

"I think it increases participation in state government," said Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha. "It decreases the influence of special interests in the election process. That is an American ideal."

Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, said the bill would stem the corrupting influence money has on campaigns and politicians.

"It's quite evident the system is out of kilter," White said.

Money for the fund would come from a new 10 percent surcharge on every assessment, fine or penalty of $1,000 or more imposed by any state board, commission or agency.

People also could make contributions to the fund and any money that candidates get but don't spend would go back into it. There also would be a $3 checkoff on state income tax returns.

If candidates agree to participate and then withdraw from the race or violate the spending rules, they would have to pay back all the public money they had received.

Under the bill, candidates in single-member House districts would have to get $10 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 accept public money, they could not accept any more donations or spend any of their own money.

If the candidate was outspent by an opponent not participating in the system, he or she could receive more money, up to three times their original allotment depending upon how much the opponent spent.

Candidates in multimember House districts and Senate districts, because they represent more people, would have to obtain more $10 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 when they are deciding whether to run.

The Legislature has been considering variations on such a plan since 2002.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell in December 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, according to Public Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C.

The West Virginia bill is supported by several state clean-elections groups and by The Reform Institute, a tax-exempt group that touts U.S. Sen. John McCain's views.

The bill was sent to the Senate Finance Committee.


Voter-Owned Elections

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