This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

October 31, 2007

Public campaign financing proposed

By Paul J. Nyden
Staff writer

A group will try to persuade the state Legislature next year to make it possible for state Senate and House of Delegates candidates to use public, not private, funding in their campaigns.

“There is too much money in politics today. And the way we finance elections drives how public policy turns out,” said Carol Warren, president of West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections.

Recent studies by a related group, the West Virginia People’s Election Reform Coalition, show that fewer than 1 percent of West Virginia’s voters contribute to legislative campaigns.

“People believe that when large interests contribute the most, they determine the playing field,” Warren said Tuesday. “Some other states that have public financing have a more diverse group of candidates winning elections.”

Next year’s proposed legislation would allow candidates to depend on public financing. They would agree not to accept major contributions from outside sources, including individuals and political action committees, and would not spend their personal funds.

The bill would allow legislative candidates to accept $5 contributions from registered voters who live in their districts.

In House races, candidates who raised at least 250 contributions of $5 each from voters in their district would qualify for between $22,500 and $67,500 in public funds. The amount of public money would be less for candidates who run unopposed and more for candidates whose opponents do not participate in the public funding program.

In Kanawha County Senate races, candidates who raise at least 400 contributions of $5 each would qualify for between $45,000 and $105,000 in public funds. (Kanawha County is the only county where two senators are on the ballot in each race.)

In all other Senate districts, candidates who raise at least 250 contributions of $5 each would qualify for between $20,000 and $60,000 in public funds.

Adam Smith, communications director for the national Public Campaign Action Fund based in Washington, D.C., said seven states and two cities have already enacted programs similar to the one proposed for West Virginia legislative races.

That group also backs similar legislation for federal offices.

In Maine, the first state to pass a “clean elections law,” 84 percent of its state Legislature ran publicly funded campaigns, Smith said.

In Arizona, such candidates hold nine of 11 statewide elective offices, including Gov. Janet Napolitano. In that state, 30 percent of the Senate and 48 percent of the House members chose to use public financing in their campaigns.

State Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, believes publicly financed races would “see far fewer unopposed races, which is good for democracy.

“I would much prefer to spend time talking to my constituents than raising money,” he said.

In West Virginia, a similar proposal was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee but did not pass the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate would be a bigger hurdle than the House for the bill, Foster said.

State Treasurer John Perdue has already agreed to provide $1 million to help finance legislative campaigns from the state’s unclaimed assets fund, which his office supervises.

Maine’s clean-elections program is financed by $2 million from the state’s general revenue fund, Smith said. Arizona’s is financed mainly by a 10 percent surcharge on all civil and criminal penalties in the state. In that state, $3.8 million in surplus money taken in was returned to the state’s general revenue fund.

Other clean-elections programs have been passed in Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont, as well as Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M.

Groups backing clean-elections legislation in West Virginia include the West Virginia Council of Churches, the National Association of Social Workers, the League of Women Voters, the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, the AFL-CIO and the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation.

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