This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

June 6, 2008

Leaders want to fix election law 'intent'

By Phil Kabler
Staff writer

The leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees want Gov. Joe Manchin to put election reform on the next special session agenda, after a federal court ruling this spring gutted much of the state's current law on election advertising.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, sent a letter to Manchin Thursday, urging him to include legislation to "restore the intent of our state's campaign finance law."

"It's important for the public to have disclosure of the sources of significant amounts of money that are trying to influence elections," Kessler said Thursday.

In April, U.S. District Judge David Faber blocked the enforcement of much of a 2005 state law that required groups running political and election advocacy ads to say who paid for the ads, on the grounds the law was too vague.

"I think, in light of Judge Faber's ruling, we can do some things to tighten it up," Kessler said of the disclosure law.

Webster said it is critical to get a corrected campaign disclosure law on the books before the fall elections, because there is likely to be a considerable amount of electioneering spending in key statewide races, including the Supreme Court and attorney general.

Both Webster and Kessler believe there is bipartisan support for passage of a corrected version of the electioneering disclosure law.

They noted in the letter to Manchin that the 2005 law passed unanimously in the Senate and with only four "no" votes in the House.

"I don't think anybody wants to have some anonymous group behind a curtain, spending a bunch of money to influence our elections," Kessler said. "I have all faith in the electorate of West Virginia to make the proper decisions, if they have all the facts."

Webster said the only potential obstacle is whether the bill could be passed in a one-day special session, noting that Manchin has stressed that he wants to limit a tentative special session later this month to a single day.

The primary issue of the session would be to appropriate funds for the upfront costs of transferring nearly 15,000 teachers and school service personnel into the Teachers Retirement System, effective July 1.

Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said the governor's office had just received the letter from Webster and Kessler, but would take the request under consideration.

"They'll consider it, and make a decision as we get closer to the special session," she said.

To contact staff writer Phil Kabler, use e-mail or call 348-1220.


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