This article originally provided by News and Sentinel

May 16, 2006

Some disagree about election spending laws

By EVAN BEVINS, Staff Writer

PARKERSBURG — Some see new state laws and proposed rules to corral election spending as going too far, while others argue they do not do enough.

“It’s a very tiny step toward ending the grotesque prostitution of our democracy,” said Walt Auvil, chairman of the Wood County Democratic Party Executive Committee.

The West Virginia secretary of state recently proposed rules, released May 4 for public comment and available at, in accordance with a law passed in the Legislature’s September special session and revisited earlier this year. The law gives the state oversight of the 527 groups, named for the section of the federal Internal Revenue Service code governing them.

Under the proposed rules, anyone who has spent $5,000 or more producing and disseminating electioneering communications — television, radio and print ads; mailings; pamphlets; outdoor advertising; phone calls — within a calendar year would be required to file a form with the secretary of state. The form must include the individual’s name, expenditures of more than $1,000, who it was paid to, the names of candidates referred to in the communication and the names of certain contributors.

The law requires 527 groups to register with the secretary of state and limits the amount someone can donate to them to $1,000 per election, $2,000 per election cycle. The limits apply only to communications made 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general or special election, said Ben Beakes, chief of staff for Secretary of State Betty Ireland.

“I think there are serious problems with them (the rules), just from the point of view of freedom of speech,” said Dr. Dan McGraw, a Parkersburg surgeon and co-founder of 527 And for the Sake of the Kids.

The group successfully targeted state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, no relation to Dan McGraw, for defeat in the 2004 election. More than two-thirds of the group’s money came from Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship.

Under the new law, only $1,000 of Blankenship’s money could have been used for ads in the two months leading up to the general election.

McGraw said that limits free speech. He added he had no problem with the disclosure requirements.

“I think the best way to take care of things is to eliminate these laws, let people spend and say what they want to ... but I think there should be full disclosure on what is spent,” McGraw said. “I think voters’ll be smart enough to figure out who’s doing what.”

Beakes said the law and rules do not limit what an individual can spend apart from a 527.

“They can spend as much money as they want, they just have to disclose that,” he said.

Auvil said much more needs to be done to remove the powerful influence of money from elections.

“Offices aren’t based on elections; they’re based on auctions like eBay,” he said. “How many normal, working-class people do you see in the Legislature?”

Auvil said the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision equating money with free speech is one of the most damaging ever handed down by the high court. To say that an individual with about $10,000 to spend on a run for office has equal speech rights to a multi-millionaire under those conditions is absurd, he said.

Short of a constitutional amendment saying the Buckley decision was wrong, Auvil said the only option to fix the problem is to have “clean elections” like Maine and Arizona.

Those states give candidates the option of entering a public financing system that gives them a set amount to spend on their campaigns, but does not allow them to use any other funds, Auvil said.

“Regardless of the party, what we see is consistently rising to the top issues that matter to the average worker,” he said, noting both states have addressed accessibility to affordable health care.

Ireland anticipates it will cost her office up to $62,500 to enact the laws. That includes $30,000 for the salary and benefits of one employee, $2,500 for a computer plus a scanner and $30,000 for Web site changes, according to the emergency rule.

The proposed rule is out for public comment until 5 p.m. June 9. A public hearing is planned for June 3.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Evan Bevins at

Voter-Owned Elections

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