This LTE originally printed in The Pocahontas Times

February 28, 2007

Dear Editor:

     It will be interesting to see if our state Senator, Walt Helmick, lives up to his promise of last year to bring up the Clean Elections Bill in the Finance Committee that he chairs.

     At all levels of government, well paid lobbyists from corporations, and large campaign donations from those corporations, have more influence than ordinary citizens in the laws that are passed. Whether it's health care, clean air and water or overweight trucks, West Virginia legislation seems to favor big business over the people.

     So the people have struggled year after year to balance that influence with legislation that gives candidates who are not supported by corporate interests a chance to run for office. Such a program would open up the possibility for more candidates to run and get their message out to voters without needing to spend time raising enormous amounts of money or special interest dollars. To participate, candidates must simply meet qualifying contributions of $5 each, which vary for Delegates and Senators. It is working in other states - similar clean election laws in Maine and Arizona have resulted in 71% of eligible candidates in Maine, and 55% of eligible candidates in Arizona running as publicly financed candidates.

     But last year, when the Clean Elections Bill got to Senator Helmick's Finance Committee, he refused to bring it up, giving credence to the saying that "the Finance Committee is where all good bills go to die."

     It may be no coincidence that Helmick is supported almost entirely by large contributions from health care, timber and construction corporation owners, and that he has run unopposed in most elections for two decades. What would happen if a teacher or a logger or a retired person with good ideas could get the financing to run against him? Senator Helmick should show that he is not afraid of public financing by at least allowing the Clean Elections Bill to come up for a vote.

     Here's what Rev. Dennis Sparks with the WV Council of Churches had to say about this in a recent column in the Charleston Gazette:

     "Free and open elections are a public good and indeed, the bedrock of our democracy. To provide public funding for candidates reduces the possibility of corruption, reduces the amount of time a candidate spends raising private funds, and diminishes the role that special interests have in determining public policy. It increases the likelihood that legislators can listen to their constituents and pursue the common good. People who could make excellent legislators, but could not dream of financing their own campaign, can run and win. The time is right for our state to become a leader in ensuring that the voices of all West Virginians will be heard in choosing our public policies."

Beth Little


Voter-Owned Elections

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