This article originally provided by Charleston Gazette

May 20, 2006

State campaign laws could be eclipsed, panelist says

By Anna L. Mallory
Staff writer

HUNTINGTON — West Virginia’s campaign contribution laws might not be enough to limit private donations in the future, an attorney for “And for the Sake of the Kids” told a group of journalists at Marshall University on Friday.

“We have a lot of questions awaiting us under the new law,” said George Carenbauer.

He said the change in U.S. Supreme Court seats, and forthcoming cases, could push any state laws aside.

Carenbauer was legal counsel for the 527 nonprofit during the 2004 judicial election. The group spent $3.5 million to help defeat former state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw. More than $2 million of that spending came from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Although the law says individuals can give up to $1,000 to any candidate in an election, Blankenship gave most of his money through the 527, legally bypassing the law.

The 2004 election helped spur the legislation to curb “electioneering communication” close to an election. Now, people can contribute only $2,000 per election cycle to a group.

Carenbauer joined Andy Gallagher, McGraw’s 2004 campaign manager, and Marshall professor Robin Capeheart, who served as campaign manager for McGraw’s challenger Brent Benjamin. Benjamin won the seat. Kanawha County Delegate Jon Amores, D-Kanawha, also joined the panel as part of Marshall’s annual “Fourth Estate and the Third Sector” conference. It brought together journalists from across the country.

Amores said he wanted the law to create debate among citizens, but said he knew it could be advantageous for certain political figures to have their names attached to issues.

“As we have debates like this and the citizenry becomes more attuned to the issues, we can make change,” he said. “For now, I’d be the last person to particularly forecast [on the future]” he said.

One way people can understand the real facts about a candidate is if public radio and television stations provide equal airtime, Carenbauer said. He said the media needs to start focusing on important issues to the electorate and not sensational cases, such as the Lacy Peterson murder.

No one involved in the 2004 election could come to a consensus on its effect, or the effect of the law to help keep it from happening again.

“A lot of this seems to be the debate over abortion again,” said Gallagher. “Politics and elections are just tough things to do.”

To contact staff writer Anna L. Mallory, use e-mail or call 348-5163.

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