This article originally provided by The Register-Herald

January 27, 2008

‘Clean elections’ bill gains support

Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Seldom is the time one finds liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, lined up on the same side of controversy.

Mark the so-called “clean elections” bill as one of those rare instances.

In fact, mark it in bold letters.

Long advocated by the West Virginia-Citizen Action Group and others, the bill intends to remove the mega-bucks element in campaigns that tend to cast suspicious shadows over the entire election process.

Not that money itself is evil or imposes some definite sign of foul play.

“I’m not so sure big money taints the system,” says Delegate Cliff Moore, D-McDowell, one of 11 sponsors in the House of Delegates.

“I just think it makes people a lot less prone to do the right thing. If that’s a definition of ‘taint,’ then I guess it does.”

Moore, like many supporting the bill, simply wants to change the process.

“I think it’s past time that this country migrates to a new system of the electoral process,” he said.

“I think the closer we can get to making the elections clean, the better off I think we’re going to be as lawmakers and the better off we’re going to be as a voting public.”

Under the bill, delegates must collect a certain amount of $5 qualifying contributions, depending on the number elected per district. For instance, in the five-member 27th District of Raleigh and Summers counties, one would need 200 such donations to qualify for $27,500 initially with a ceiling of $52,500.

In the 9th Senatorial District of Raleigh and Wyoming counties, a candidate would need 250 donations to get an initial outlay of $20,000. The maximum would be $60,000.

Only Districts 8 and 17 in Kanawha County are different. Candidates there would be obligated to get 400 of the $5 donations to qualify for $35,000 initially and a maximum of $105,000.

Participation would be voluntary in a concept that has taken root in a number of states. Two years ago, for instance, 86 percent of Maine’s senatorial candidates took part, as did 79 percent of its House hopefuls.

Once a candidate signs on to public financing, no private money can be raised and the aspirant cannot dip into his own pockets.

For years, former Senate Minority Leader Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, has been an advocate of the idea.

Sprouse says he is turned off by the idea of shelling out huge dollars to win a job that pays a mere $15,000 a year in the Legislature. And, admittedly, he hasn’t been shy about spending.

“In my Senate race, the last time, I spent $300,000 and my opponent $200,000,” he said.

“Mike Green, down in Beckley, spent $300,000. These numbers for state Senate races somehow have got to stop.”

Thirteen senators are backing it, including Sprouse, Shirley Love, D-Fayette, Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier, and Randy White, D-Webster.

Sprouse said he isn’t convinced the public financing bill is the best approach, but agrees something needs to be given a test drive.

“I don’t know if it’s a perfect way, but to me, it’s the best way that’s been presented to try somehow get a handle on the absurdity that money is in the political process.”

Gary Zuckett, executive director of WV-CAG, said his group’s support can be explained in the simple logic that candidates running in publicly financed campaigns are answerable solely to the voters.

“Clean elections put voters back in the driver’s seat,” he said.

— E-mail:

Voter-Owned Elections

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