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Contact: Julie Archer, WV CAG 304-346-5891; Si Galperin, Common Cause-WV 304-343-1635;
Janet Keating, OVEC & Citizens for Clean Elections coordinator 304-522-0246
CHARLESTON, W.Va.—Citizens for Clean Elections, a statewide coalition of organizations promoting fair and clean elections in West Virginia, commended the state legislature and Governor Manchin for supporting a bill to regulate 527 committees and other groups that engage in electioneering that masquerades as “issue advocacy.” The bill, passed unanimously by the state Senate and on a 91-4 vote in the House during the recent special session, came in response to millions of dollars spent on negative political advertising during the state Supreme Court race in 2004. The coalition also acknowledged Secretary of State Betty Ireland for her support and commitment to enforcing the new law.
Mayor Richie Robb-R, long-time mayor of South Charleston and an active participant in Citizens for Clean Elections said, “I praise the West Virginia legislature and the governor in promoting fair play in the election process.”
The bill requires that 527 groups register with and disclose who their contributors are to the Secretary of State’s office. Previously, these groups reported their contributions and expenditures only to the Internal Revenue Service. Some reports required by the IRS are not filed after the election is over, and those reports often do not include the names of individual donors.
Susan Sobkoviak, a lobbyist for the National Association of Social Worker-WV said, “Last year, two such groups spent $5.6 million on the state Supreme Court race. Almost half of that, $2.5 million, came from one person. Another $1.4 million came from one specific group. State residents have the right to know who is paying for political ads, especially negative ones. West Virginia is a pioneer in reining in 527 groups, but it is predicted that many more states will join in.”
Carol Warren, a member of the Peace and Justice/Government Concerns Committee of the West Virginia Council of Churches said, “This legislation is a great victory for citizens interested in impartial processes. Large amounts of money in WV politics from unidentifiable sources are a recipe for bias.”
In addition to reporting requirements, the bill limits individual contributions to 527 groups to $1,000 during the primary and $1,000 during the general election Prior to the passage of the bill, no contribution limits existed.
“Although some have criticized the limits as an attempt to prohibit free speech, we see it as leveling the playing field and making 527s play by the same rules as candidates and political action committees,” said Julie Archer of West Virginia Citizen Action Group. “Under the new law ‘issue ads’ that blast a candidate’s character without calling specifically for the candidate’s election or defeat could continue, the contributions paying for them would just need to be disclosed to the Secretary of State.”
Citizens for Clean Elections, a broad statewide coalition including groups like AARP, Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Education Association, WV-Citizen Action Group, West Virginia Council of Churches, West Virginia Environmental Council, promotes “voter-owned,” Fair and Clean Elections. For more information see their website at www.wvoter-owned.org.