This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

June 20, 2008

Special session

Revisit election law

Gov. Joe Manchin should include another look at the state's campaign finance law on his agenda for an upcoming special session of the Legislature.

Manchin is expected to call a one-day session to deal with teacher retirement issues. But another topic just as urgent is a flawed state law that was partially struck down by U.S. District Judge David Faber.

In 2005, the Legislature tried to prevent anonymous special-issue groups from running election-related campaigns without saying who they are and who provides their money. The Legislature enacted the law change because Massey Energy's chief funded a nonprofit group called And for the Sake of the Kids to unseat Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw. The new statute required financial disclosure by groups that run campaign or advocacy ads costing $5,000 or more just prior to elections, when the ads apply to clearly identifiable candidates for statewide office. The change enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.

In response, the Center for Individual Freedom Inc., a 10-year-old Virginia-based group, sued, saying the law inhibited free speech. Judge Faber agreed in part, saying the state law was too vague.

House Judiciary Chairman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, says the law can be fixed. She and other legislators have been working on an improved version that could be ready in time for a one-day legislative session.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler recently told Statehouse reporter Phil Kabler: "I have all faith in the electorate of West Virginia to make the proper decisions, if they have all the facts."

Well said. That is exactly what campaign disclosure laws are designed to do - ensure that voters know who is paying for what messages intended to influence elections. Who is spending and how much they spend also helps voters to weigh what they are being told and to make smart decisions.

Lawmakers can certainly craft a better bill that gives voters as much information as possible without violating the sacred principle of free speech. This month may be the last chance to repair this law before the 2008 general election.

We applaud the governor for keeping expensive special sessions short and few. This issue is important enough to deserve a spot on the most limited agenda.

Legislators have been working hard to repair the flawed law. They should have a chance to make this right for the electorate.

Voter-Owned Elections

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