This article originally provided by The Register-Herald

February 24, 2006

Discussion but no action on campaign financing

Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Out in Goldwater Country, citizens took the lead in forcing public financing of political campaigns, and one Arizona official Thursday described the results as successful.

That, despite a state known for its deep conservative roots, in contrast to West Virginia, viewed as labor-oriented, where such bills never get past first base.

“I thought it was very odd that the state of Arizona would handle this thing and get to the point where they are, and it’s obviously working,” Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick reflected afterward.

Todd Lang, executive director of the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, said the citizens there compelled public financing by referendum after a series of scandals rocked the statehouse.

“Folks in Arizona are very conservative,” Lang said of his home state, the launching pad of the modern conservative movement via the late Sen. Barry Goldwater.

“They’re anti-tax. They’re anti-government.”

Under the plan, a candidate must fetch 210 donations of $5 apiece to get on the ballot.

The public fund stood at $8 million at last count, fed by a 10 percent surcharge on all court penalties — criminal and civil. Additionally, Arizonians may voluntarily check off $5 donations on their income tax returns.

Helmick was adamant that time simply doesn’t remain in this session to take up the matter.

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

Gary Zuckett, a spokesman for West Virginia-Citizen Action Group, said Lang’s testimony affirmed what his organization has been pushing fully a decade — that public financing can help clean up the political landscape.

Zuckett pointed out a similar approach to financing campaigns is being tested in Maine.

“Those two states are laboratory states for this type of election reform,” he said.

“You find a majority of incumbents using the system, which I think speaks for itself.”

Helmick wondered if the same concept would work in West Virginia, however, telling reporters later in the day, “We’re a little different from time to time.”

“We need additional time,” he said.

“We don’t want to pass something that we can’t live with. We don’t want to pass something and go back and be embarrassed with.”

At least for now, he said, the Senate finance panel put the bill out for discussion and the issue remains before the Legislature.

“I think we’ll see that again, at the beginning of the next session, and it will be a real issue,” he added.

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