This OpEd originally provided by
March 2, 2008
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
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