This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

April 14, 2008

Voters should know who contributes to candidates

Last week, at least two Associated Press articles appeared in this newspaper regarding a pending challenge of electioneering disclosure laws in West Virginia. This case is vital; it may determine how much we voters will know about sponsors of political ads.

Three of the four West Virginia Democratic candidates for the State Supreme Court -- Bob Bastress, Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman -- are challenging the lawsuit filed by the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), based in Alexandria, Va. Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, who is running for re-election, did not join in the lawsuit, noting that "the matter could end up before the court."

The newspaper reported that the CFIF objects to West Virginia laws "that would require it to disclose its spending and donors, and that curtail direct political spending by corporations." In other words, CFIF wants to use the media to advocate for or against candidates. They just don't want to tell the public who is behind the ads.

Using models from North Carolina and Vermont, West Virginia updated its requirements on disclosure of electioneering communications in 2005. It addressed political donations from corporations and identity of those who place political ads in the media. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

After all, West Virginia's reputation regarding voting and elections has been appalling. A fascinating history of political corruption appears in Dr. Allen Loughry's book "Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay For a Landslide." The title is taken from a statement supposedly made by John F. Kennedy's father during the 1960 primary here.

The book identifies decades of political corruption in West Virginia, noting that two governors and numerous public officials have, over the years, been charged with and found guilty of corruption. So, improved integrity in West Virginia's election process should be welcome.

Internet information on the CFIF says it is a "non-partisan, non-profit organization with a stated mission to protect and defend individual freedoms and individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution." Sounds like an impartial organization.

But wait. The CFIF identifies itself as a conservative organization and apparently works to advance conservative causes. The individuals objecting to the CFIF lawsuit are Democratic candidates.

According to a CFIF Web site, it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia "alleging that several provisions of state law are vague and overly broad and thus violate the First Amendment." CFIF had previously filed similar suits in Louisiana and Pennsylvania.

Of course, all states should have laws that protect First Amendment rights of all citizens. But West Virginians should be leery of any individual or group who clearly wants to influence our election outcomes.

Remember it was just during the last state legislative election that a very rich coal executive spent about $3 million trying to oust 30 Democrats in our legislature. West Virginia voters were not impressed; only one targeted legislator, who was very ill, lost re-election.

Why does the CFIF, a group based in Virginia, want to place media ads in West Virginia but not identify the sponsors of the ads? The public is entitled to an answer.

In our nation and in West Virginia, we deserve honest elections. If our laws say that disclosure of spending and donors is required, it should be so for all political groups, including the Center for Individual Freedom. West Virginians deserve the right to know who is trying to influence our votes.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Huntington. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her e-mail is

Voter-Owned Elections

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