This article originally provided by
The Charleston Gazette
July 22, 2008
Disclosure legislation helps; publicly financed campaigns
If money equals speech, our democracy is really in trouble. The voices of the
wealthy already have the power to drown out the expressed interests of the vast
majority of more moderately situated citizens. All who desire genuine democracy
should be grateful to Gov. Joe Manchin and our legislators for passing the
revised disclosure legislation during the recent special session to keep secret
money from having an unhealthy influence on our elections.
It's difficult to understand why there are groups of people who want to
influence our state's policies and elections without identifying themselves. Why
do they want their identity - and their money - to be kept secret? Is it because
if we know who they are we will find their assertions less credible? Do they
have biases so obvious we would all recognize their attempt to manipulate? Or
perhaps most disturbing, would we discover the wealth of a few individuals being
used to influence policy on numerous fronts?
Some say, "It's the right of individuals to use their money in whatever way they
choose." Few of us would disagree. But if wealthy groups or individuals intend
to use money to influence policies that affect all citizens, the people of the
state have a right to know who is behind that money. This is what the disclosure
bill is about - letting the people know, shining the light. Groups or
individuals can still run ads blasting a candidate's character if they wish. The
source of contributions paying for the ads must simply be disclosed to the
Secretary of State's Office.
Others have said the disclosure law was aimed only at protecting certain
candidates in the upcoming elections. Protecting candidates from anonymous mass
mailings or advertisements that make claims about their character and fitness?
Which of us would want to be placed in such a position with no knowledge of
where the accusations originated or to whom to respond? If a credible group or
individual has reasonable proof of wrongdoing by a public official, they should
present the information openly for all to see. Keeping one's identity a secret
does not lend credibility to such accusations; it casts doubt on them.
There is a solution to this debate about individuals and groups unfairly
influencing our political campaigns: public campaign financing, or as it is
known in the seven states and two cities that already have it, "clean
Publicly financed candidates must agree not to accept private contributions from
individuals or groups, and may not use their own money for the campaign. By
adopting this voluntary system of public financing, we can end speculation about
who is lurking in the shadows trying to influence West Virginia's elections and
policy decisions. Without special-interest donations to influence the
candidates, they are more accountable to the public. In addition, adopting clean
elections can strengthen our democracy by allowing people from many backgrounds
to run for office with a fair shot at being elected.
Warren, of Webster Springs, is a member of West Virginia Citizens for Clean