This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

March 23, 2008

Campaign finance has become constant fight for improvement

The Herald-Dispatch

Campaign finance is always a hot topic around election time.

Especially in the Mountain State, where who is paying the tab has led to much speculation over who might be controlling a candidate.

Never has this been more evident than over the past few months, where parties in a lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Appeals have asked Justice Brent Benjamin to step down because the other party, Massey Energy, is headed by a man who paid out $3.5 million through a political action committee to get Benjamin elected.

Another Supreme Court Justice, Larry Starcher, even went as far as to accuse Massey Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship of publicly boasting of the influence he held over the election and the court, though Blankenship denied those claims.

Blankenship did tell the Associated Press he wouldn't spend any money in this year's election because Justice Warren McGraw was unseated by Benjamin, and Starcher isn't seeking another term.

These and other situations have led to numerous cries for public funding of West Virginia elections, in an effort to rid the state government of the corruption of special interests.

While such a change has yet to take place, West Virginians can still see who is spending what in every election, as campaign finance reports are required to be filed by all candidates, and are subject to open records law.

If the candidate is running for a state office, from circuit judge to the legislature and beyond, finding out how much a candidate received for a campaign and from whom, and even how they spent the money, can all be achieved with the click of a mouse.

The Web site for the Secretary of State contains an extensive online database of campaign finance reports going all the way back to 2002. The reports can be searched by a candidate's name or office, or the name of a PAC, and by year. A visitor can also simply scan through each report, if desired.

"Every year we try to find newer and better ways to make this information more accessible to the public," said Sarah Bailey, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office. "This year is the first year we've had all of this information in a searchable format, which makes it a lot easier to see who donated what to which candidates. It's getting better all the time."

And, citizens can always come to the Secretary of State's office and ask to see finance reports, Bailey said.

While the information is useful in seeing where candidates' funding comes from, it might not be as handy if citizens want to vote for offices based on who a candidate's contributors are.

There are three separate reporting periods for which finance reports are due for both the primary and the general election. In both of cases, two of the reports are not required until after the elections, meaning some funding may not be disclosed until voters have cast their ballots.

The "post-primary" and "post-general" reports are due this year between May 26 to May 30, and Nov. 17 to Nov. 21, respectively.

For races that pertain to only one county, candidates are required to file financial reports with the county clerk's office. At the municipal level, candidates must file with the city clerk.


Voter-Owned Elections

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