This OpEd originally provided by The Daily Mail

October 9, 2007

Carol Warren: Residents already pay for campaigns

I love it when people tell me, "I don't want my tax dollars paying for politicians' campaigns."

That means I get to ask them the real question: "Who do you want to pay for them, then?"

The response is usually a quizzical stare.

West Virginians don't seem to realize that their tax dollars will pay for the people they elect one way or another. In the 2004 election cycle, fewer than 1 percent of West Virginians contributed to any state candidate's campaign. Yet millions of dollars were spent.

Where does the public think the money came from -- since it obviously didn't come from them?

The real decision isn't whether citizens pay for campaigns, but how we pay.

Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut have taken the high road and are being rewarded by public campaign financing systems. Why should West Virginia's public policy be held hostage by big donors to our legislators' campaigns?

The recent gambling legislation is a pertinent example. Whatever one's position, one can marvel at the money that flowed around it.

According to the most recent data from the People's Election Reform Coalition, contributions from the gambling industry went up a startling 400 percent during the 2006 election cycle. It's no surprise they got their legislation.

And why was the real promise of the 2003 legislation requiring our state to negotiate directly with drug companies for lower prices never realized? Take a look at the open wallets of the pharmaceutical industry and its fleet of lobbyists.

If we want good schools for our children, health care for all, a clean and non-toxic environment and greater economic diversity, we must fund our election campaigns differently.

The state's well-entrenched special interests argue that it is a public good that we allow them to continue paying for our elections.

Why burden ourselves?

Why spend the $5 or $6 per household it would cost to have the citizens pay for election campaigns?

We've heard their lines: Ridiculous use of taxpayer money! Welfare for politicians!

We shouldn't be surprised by their vehemence. They are profiting nicely from the status quo, thank you.

They get access, influence and special treatment in return for their contributions.

And the voters continue to lose -- in terms of both policy and accountability.

But the monied interests just smile at our disillusionment. They would like nothing better than for us to stay home, shut up, and not even bother to vote.

West Virginians are already paying for our state's political campaigns.

Wouldn't we be smarter to spend a few million dollars per election cycle for public financing? Or will we continue to spend mega-millions benefiting the few who currently foot the bills?

Warren, who lives in Webster Springs, is coordinator for W.Va. Citizens for Clean Elections, a coalition of 25 state organizations that support public campaign financing of political campaigns.

Voter-Owned Elections

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