This article originally provided by
Charleston Daily Mail
February 1, 2007
2007 may offer best chance for publicly funded campaigns in
By TOM BREEN
Associated Press Writer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Legislation that would allow candidates to use
public money to run for office has been coming up since 2002. But advocates say
this year might be the last chance for West Virginia to join the three states
that have enacted similar laws in a bid to end the "money arms race'' of
The proposal has been gaining momentum, according to Kanawha County Sen. Vic
Sprouse, one of the Senate bill's Republican sponsors. If it doesn't happen this
year, he said, he can't imagine it happening in 2008, an election year for most
"If it's going to pass, this is the year it's going to pass,'' Sprouse said.
Since 2000, Arizona, Maine and Connecticut have passed similar laws allowing
candidates to swear off private fundraising in exchange for public financing of
campaigns. However, California voters last year rejected a similar measure in a
Sprouse, comparing the escalating cost of campaigns to an arms race, said
candidates without independent wealth or the ability to woo large donors are
being priced out of politics.
"The cost of elections in West Virginia are totally out of control,'' he said.
In the 2006 elections, Senate candidates for 17 of 34 seats together spent more
than $2.8 million. About $1 million of that came from candidates who lost in the
May primary. Those who survived until the general spent an average of about
The large field of House candidates for all 100 seats spent $3.8 million, though
all but about $220,000 was spent by primary winners. The House candidates who
reached the general election spent an average of about $20,300.
Two current bills, one each in the Senate and House of Delegates, would create a
system by which candidates could voluntarily receive public money for campaigns
if they meet certain criteria, such as receiving a set number of contributions
from individuals within their districts.
The fund would dispense varying amounts of money to candidates based on the
offices they seek, so that senators could start with between $20,000 and $35,000
of public money, while delegates could qualify for between $7,500 and $22,500,
based on how many members of the House are in their district. There are 58
delegate districts throughout the state.
The legislation proposes filling the election fund with money returned by
candidates who violate the provisions of the act, civil penalties levied by the
state Election Commission, voluntary donations and other sources.
On Thursday, a broad coalition of advocacy groups ranging from religious
organizations to labor unions urged lawmakers to approve the legislation.
Although the advocates acknowledged the legislation had failed to gain enough
support to pass previously, they were optimistic that the climate has changed,
citing Connecticut's 2005 adoption of public financing legislation as an example
of a years-in-the-making campaign paying off.
"We can't afford not to do this,'' said Gary Zuckett of the West Virginia
Citizens Action Group.
Secretary of State Betty Ireland, who oversees the state's elections, would be
responsible for putting any such system into place. In the past, her office had
expressed concerns about how such a system would actually work.
Ireland's office is working with lawmakers to address those concerns, said
spokesman Ben Beakes.
"We just want to make sure it's a bill we can actually administer, and I think
it's close,'' he said.