This OpEd originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

March 2, 2008

Mary Wildfire

Campaign money corrupts

I'm writing to support the West Virginia Public Campaign Financing Act (SB240 and HB4050). This bill gives the people of West Virginia a chance to take our government back from the special interests now calling the shots.

Without tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, you simply can't run a viable campaign. Thus, most prospective candidates are either personally wealthy - in which case they hardly represent typical West Virginians - or they raise money from special interests. For the special interests, this money is an investment; it's likely to be handsomely repaid in the form of favorable legislation such as tax breaks or relaxed regulation. Such breaks come at the expense of the public.

In 2002, the coal industry donated $187,400 to Gov. Bob Wise's re-election campaign and over $223,000 to members of the Legislature. Wise pushed hard to raise the weight limits on coal trucks, and in 2003 the Legislature passed the bill, despite overwhelming public opposition.

The state Division of Highways estimated a minimum of $2.8 billion for road and bridge upgrades if weight limits were increased. Truck fees pay a small part of that. We pay the rest. It comes to $1,555 a person. Compared to that, the $6 a year that publicly funded elections would cost looks pretty small!

In 2004, the chairman of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee blocked a vote on a bill that would have linked drug prices to the federal supply schedule.

Drug companies gave $85,885 to state representatives in 2000 and 2002. For less than $100,000, the drug companies blocked a bill that could have saved West Virginians $500 million! The drug companies got an average of $277 from us through that successful maneuver.

These examples show that campaign contributions are very good investments for industry. We, the public, need to make this kind of investment if we want to stop paying much more heavily in other ways. In Arizona and Maine, where they have full public financing, they now have more contested elections, higher voter turnout, more women and minorities in office and innovative programs impossible elsewhere, like health care for everyone in Maine.

If we want to actually reduce the legal vote-buying that goes on in the Capitol, we must give our representatives a way to run and be elected to public office without selling out. The politicians win because they can spend their time talking to their constituents instead of hustling for contributions. The public wins because "our" representatives will again be able to represent us. The special interests lose their special privileges. About time, too!

Wildfire, of Spencer, is a volunteer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.


Voter-Owned Elections

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