This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

February 24, 2006

Campaign finance reform works, Arizona official says

On the day an Arizona official lauded publicly funded campaigns, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said an election reform bill is dead in West Virginia’s Legislature for this year.

Todd Lang says Arizona’s “clean elections” laws have increased voter participation and countered the impact of negative political advertisements. Lang heads Arizona’s Citizens Clean Election Commission, created by the reform law passed in 1998.

The Arizona legislation generates money to finance political campaigns, Lang said, primarily through a surcharge on all state fines and penalties, as well as $5 voluntary individual check-offs on state income tax returns.

The Arizona law does not prevent candidates from raising funds privately, but provides an alternative to candidates who pledge to limit their total expenditures if they receive public money.

The Arizona bill set strict limits on the amount of private contributions candidates can raise — and still qualify for public funds — from $2,650 in early contributions for legislative candidates to $42,440 for gubernatorial candidates.

This year, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission will provide $31,000 to legislative candidates, including $13,000 for primary elections and $18,000 for general elections.

Major party candidates for governor, however, can receive $1.1 million in public money for their campaigns. Candidates for attorney general and secretary of state can each receive more than $215,000 for their campaigns. Independent candidates can also qualify, but get less.

“In the last election in 2004, 56 percent of all candidates participated,” Lang told Gazette representatives Thursday. “In 2006, we expect 60 percent of candidates will.”

The Arizona law also contains a provision that triples a candidate’s campaign finances whenever the Citizens Clean Election Commission finds a candidate to be the victim of negative campaign “attack ads.”

A gubernatorial candidate targeted by attack ads could have his state funding increased from $1.1 million to $3.3 million, giving the candidate more leeway to buy response ads, Lang explained.

Lang also spoke to the Senate Finance Committee, but Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, pulled a bill to allow public financing of state House and Senate campaigns (SB126) off the committee agenda, effectively killing the legislation for this session.

“It’s too much, too soon, too late,” Helmick said.

The bill, which would allow candidates to qualify for public funds ranging from $22,500 for single-member district House races to $105,000 in Kanawha County’s 8th and 17th senatorial districts, had narrowly survived a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Helmick said he believes the time will come for West Virginia to join those states, but said the issue needs to be studied. As a practical matter, publicly financed campaigns could not begin until the 2008 elections.

“I think that’s a piece of legislation we will see again,” he said.

Julie Archer, a research analyst for Citizens for Clean Elections, a 26-group coalition backing the bill, said, “We still hope they take this bill up. But if they don’t, we have made progress by moving the bill forward. We will come back next year.”

This would be the fourth year that election reform proposals died in the Senate Finance Committee.

Staff writer Phil Kabler contributed to this report. To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.


Voter-Owned Elections

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