CHARLESTON – Democratic lawmakers are asking Republican Gov. Jim Justice to veto a bill that would reform state campaign finance laws.
Senate Bill 622 would increase numerous caps on campaign contributions for individuals and political action committees. It also would allow federal PACs to continue to receive contributions from undisclosed donors.
“The last thing that we need in campaigns is more negative mailers and commercials,” Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe (D-Greenbrier) said. “This is the wrong direction if we want to encourage West Virginians to be a part of the process.”
Lavender-Bowe is joined in the coalition by Senator Glenn Jeffries (D-Putnam), Richard Lindsay (D-Kanawha), Delegate Andrew Byrd (D-Kanawha), Delegate Joe Canestraro (D-Marshall), Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion), Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton (D-Kanawha), Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha), Delegate Andrew Robinson (D-Kanawha) and Delegate Doug Skaff (D-Kanawha).
“Not one time during the campaign did I hear constituents ask for there to be more money in politics,” Byrd said. “This bill should not have been a priority for the West Virginia Legislature when our state faces so many other issues that need and deserve our attention.”
“This bill further removes the average West Virginian from the political process,” he said. “A Governor’s veto would restore the ability for our constituents to have their voices heard over the out-of-state special interests and big money PACs.”
Canestraro, Estep-Burton and Robinson said they have concerns about specific issues in the bill that will damage their constituents’ ability to be a part of the process.
“This bill does nothing to repair roads or employ people in my home county,” Canestraro said. “But it does direct the focus of the Legislature to anyone capable of writing a $2,800 check to a politician.”
Caputo echoed his colleagues.
“West Virginia does not need more money in elections," he said. "I urge Governor Justice to act quickly and veto this unnecessary piece of legislation."
Secretary of State Mac Warner, however, is pushing for the bill to become law. He says the bill would close loopholes that exist in current campaign finance laws and increase transparency to the public.
“Without these necessary enhancements, West Virginia will be left behind in categories such as electronic disclosure of third parties and public access to information about out-of-state organizations,” Warner, a Republican, said. “Under the campaign finance transparency reform bill, additional ‘dark money’ will be brought into the sunlight and disclosed. Contribution levels will reflect lower limits than our surrounding states, and will still be 14th lowest in the nation for statewide candidates.”
Warner’s office provided a summary of some of the disclosure and transparency enhancements provided in Senate Bill 622:
* Removes the major loophole for federal political action committees (PACs) by requiring all PACs to file reports electronically on the Secretary of State’s public website. Currently, PACs registered at the federal level are not required to file anything in West Virginia
* Eliminates the major loophole of third party independent expenditures, now requiring all independent expenditures to be disclosed electronically for the public’s viewing
* Strengthens and clarifies the laws on organizations, such as revising the definition of a “Political Action Committee” which are required to disclose donors and other campaign finance information
* Creates a state-level prohibition of foreign nationals from contributing to campaigns
* Online filing for all PACs will be completely searchable (contributions, donors, expenditures, etc.). Currently, PACs can simply submit paper reports of their finances which require manual review to learn about their contributions, donors and expenditures
* Mandates fines for late campaign finance report filers, which must be paid by the candidate personally
* Mandates that a list of late report filers must be posted on the Secretary of State’s website so the public knows who is delinquent in their disclosures
* Restructures the campaign finance report filing calendar, which includes four additional reports so candidates and committees cannot go for nearly a year without disclosing their campaign finances during off-year periods
A group called West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections also has spoken out against the bill.
“Despite the way practically every West Virginia voter — Republican or Democrat — feels about the state of our politics and money’s role in it, West Virginia politicians are charging ahead with SB 622 — the bill no one asked for,” Julie Archer said. “No one except wealthy special interests, of course.
“Most West Virginians can’t afford to give $1,000 to their favorite candidates, let alone the new, nearly tripled upper limit of $2,800, so it’s worth asking: who wants these higher limits?
“That is simple enough to answer: on one hand, politicians who would rather attend ritzy behind-closed-doors big-money fundraisers than actually knock on doors and raise money from regular West Virginians. The other big beneficiary? The wealthiest few who can afford to donate more than $1,000 to a state candidate in both the primary and general election (would be raised to $2,800 for each) and the big-money special interests who can afford to give state party caucuses more than $1,000 (would be raised to $10,000 per calendar year) and Political Action Committees (PACs) more than $1,000 in both the primary and general election (would be raised to $5,000 for each).”