This Op-Ed originally provided by
February 24, 2008
We could have clean elections in W.Va. for just $6 apiece
This year, the Legislature has an opportunity to change the rules and shift
control of our elections back to the voters.
The WV Public Campaign Financing Act (HB 4050 & SB 240) would create an
alternative public financing option for candidates seeking election to the state
Senate and House of Delegates. The legislation has Democratic and Republican
sponsors in both houses and the support of Citizens for Clean Elections, a
diverse non-partisan coalition comprised of faith-based organizations, good
government advocates, environmental groups and organized labor.
The system is voluntary and candidates who participate agree to abide by
contribution and spending limits. To qualify, candidates must collect a set
number of $5 qualifying contributions from registered voters in their districts
and agree to raise no private money for their campaign and to spend none of
By removing the pressure from candidates to raise large sums of money from
special interest contributors, public financing allows candidates to focus on
issues and assure voters they are beholden only to them. It's a sensible
approach to moving toward a government that is more honest, open and accountable
to the needs of all its citizens.
At least eight states have already adopted full public financing programs for
some or all state offices, and several others are considering similar
legislation. In Maine and Arizona, which serve as the models for West Virginia's
legislation, it is now the political norm to run for office free from direct
dependence on private campaign contributions.
While changing the way we finance political campaigns may not be among the top
public policy priorities for West Virginia voters, reducing the influence of
special interests in the political process can help make other reforms like
affordable health care and lower prescription drug prices possible. For example,
Maine passed a progressive health care initiative that enables all but its
wealthiest families to purchase prescription drugs on the Medicaid list for the
Medicaid price, saving them as much as 60 percent off market prices.
Similarly, in Arizona, when Janet Napolitano campaigned in 2002, she promised to
do something about prescription drugs. As a publicly financed candidate, her
campaign stressed that meant she didn't have to take contributions from the
pharmaceutical industry. She kept her promise. One of her first acts as governor
was to require that the state buy its prescription drugs in bulk, lowering costs
and saving everyone money.
Unfortunately, in West Virginia the real promise of the 2003 legislation
requiring our state to negotiate directly with drug companies for lower prices
was never realized because of the overwhelming influence of the pharmaceutical
Within the Legislature, support for the WV Public Campaign Financing Act seems
to be on the rise, although many legislators remain somewhat skeptical that the
public supports making "taxpayer dollars" available for campaigns. However,
there is evidence that voters in West Virginia are favorably disposed toward the
program. Nationally polls indicate the majority of voters, regardless of party
affiliation, support proposals where candidates who agree to spending limits and
who agree not to accept private contributions would qualify for a set amount of
money from a public fund. These surveys show support for such programs growing
over time. In addition, public financing costs just $6 per household - a very
reasonable amount to pay for a system that can put West Virginia voters back in
control of our elections.
If we want sound public policies, we need to eliminate the undue influence of
special interests by adopting public campaign financing. Publicly financed
candidates are responsible only to the voters, feel obligated to keep promises
and can help the citizens get what we want and need from government. Pubic
financing puts voters back in the driver's seat.
Archer is with WV Citizen Action Group.