This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

July 16, 2006

Tiny minority funds state campaigns, report says

By Paul J. Nyden
Staff writer

More than $6 million and more than 23,000 individual contributions went to candidates running for seats in the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in 2004, according to a new study of election donations.

Most of the money came from a handful of people, less than one half of 1 percent of all West Virginians.

Incumbents had a big advantage in raising money, especially from special-interest groups. They got 72 percent of all special-interest group contributions. Another 22 percent went to challengers, while 6 percent went to candidates running unopposed.

These are among the findings of the West Virginia People’s Election Reform Coalition, whose report will be released early next month. It will be the fifth campaign contributions report the group has prepared since 1996.

“Most of the time, the person who raises and spends the most money wins the election,” said Julie Archer, a research analyst for the Mountain State Education and Research Foundation who has coordinated research for the reports.

The most notable exception was in the 2004 race between Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Ross, D-Randolph, and newcomer Clark Barnes, his Republican opponent.

Ross raised $247,731 — more than three times the $73,221 Barnes raised. But Barnes beat Ross, an oil and gas business owner.

The race with the highest amount of contributions was for a Senate seat from Kanawha County, where former Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman raised $143,133 as the Democratic challenger.

But incumbent Republican Vic Sprouse, the Senate minority leader, raised $291,272 and beat Workman. Sprouse spent only $200,272 during the 2004 campaign.

Archer said the most expensive House of Delegates races tend to be in multi-member districts or in the Eastern Panhandle.

In the five-member House of Delegates district in Raleigh and Summers counties, 10 candidates raised more than $500,000 collectively. Those candidates included former House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, who did not run for re-election this year.

Candidates in Kanawha County’s seven-member district, which includes Charleston, raised $440,866 collectively.

The most expensive single-member House race came in Jefferson County in the Eastern Panhandle. Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, raised $35,315 in his successful re-election campaign against Republican challenger Bob Murto, who raised, $13,274.

Business leaders and their political action committees dominated “special interest contributions,” according to the report.

Business interests accounted for 69 percent of all special-interest contributions, including: health care, 15 percent; coal, 12 percent; and banking and finance, 5 percent. Three other groups — gambling, oil and gas, real estate and construction — each accounted for 4 percent of the total.

Labor unions and their members gave 13 percent of all special-interest contributions, while consumer and trial lawyers gave 12 percent. But 99 percent of all labor contributions came from PACs, rather than individuals.

Contributions from all special interest groups, including labor, were divided this way:

  • Senate candidates received $737,331 from individuals tied to special-interest groups and $468,720 from PACs.
  • House of Delegates candidates received $709,183 from individuals and nearly $1.1 million from PACs.

    Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, was the top fundraiser. During the 2004 campaign, he had $353,515 in his campaign fund, nearly half of which ($176,251) was carried over from previous campaigns. But with a very secure seat, Tomblin was not even among the top 10 spenders in 2004.

    Kiss had $291,366 in his campaign fund, including $103,269 in unspent contributions from previous campaigns.

    More than 85 percent of money raised by 20 candidates came from themselves and family members. Of these, 17 contributed less than $10,000 to their own campaigns.

    Three candidates spent more.

  • Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, spent $119,315 of his own money, which amounted to 90 percent of all contributions made to his successful campaign for a House seat. In this year’s May Democratic primary for Congress, Hunt lost to Mike Callaghan, former West Virginia Democratic Party chairman.
  • Delegate Sally Susman, D-Raleigh, spent $89,704 in personal funds, which came to 87 percent of the costs of her successful re-election campaign.

    This year, Susman lost her primary bid to become the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat from Raleigh and Summers counties.

  • Former Delegate Robert Pulliam, R-Raleigh, a Beckley obstetrician, spent $70,688 of his own money in his losing race for the House in 2004. Only 3 percent of his campaign donations came from other people.

    “The significance of this report is that we now have five election cycles in a row to analyze the role of special interest money,” said Norm Steenstra, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group.

    “We plan on giving the PERC reports, both written and electronic, to the state Department of Culture and History Archives as well as to Secretary of State Betty Ireland,” he said. “That way, other people can analyze these trends for themselves.”

    The report “highlights to need for reforms that will give average citizens a greater voice in the political process,” said Janet Keating, co-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

    “People feel disenfranchised and powerless to effect change in government because they lack the financial clout of special interest groups.”

    The coalition backs new legislation to promote publicly funded campaigns, where candidates can receive public funds — often raised by voluntary donations from individuals filing income taxes — if they pledge to keep campaign spending under specified limits.

    The coalition also advocates increased funding for the Secretary of State’s Office to monitor candidate and PAC filings. PERC also supports a law requiring any candidate who raises $5,000 or more to file electronic campaign reports.

    In early August, the new report and its accompanying statistical data will be available at

    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