Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Fair Use Notice

Down the Road to Clean Elections

By Janet Fout (ohvec@ezwv.com)

The road to Clean Elections is by no means a high-speed freeway, but little-by-little, this much needed campaign finance reform legislation is gaining respect and scrutiny of the West Virginia legislature. And why shouldn't it? Elected officials currently have to spend a huge proportion of their time raising campaign contributions. This voluntary option will not only free them up to spend more time talking to their constituents about important issues, but also can help restore integrity to the political process.

Some may argue that in these times of budgetary shortfalls, the state can't afford to finance political campaigns. But let's face it. As taxpayers, we are already paying and paying and paying. Unfortunately, few regular folks are benefiting from the policies that are being enacted. Instead, our tax dollars are subsidizing those same special interests that finance campaigns (in 2000, fewer than of 1% of all West Virginians contributed to legislative races).

For example, the Department of Transportation concluded it would take at minimum $2.8 billion dollars over the next decade to repair the damage to roads and bridges caused by overweight coal trucks running illegally (a fraction of that amount could fund legislative races!). In 2002 the People's Election Reform Coalition, which tracks special interest contributions to legislators, found that the during the special session on overweight coal trucks this summer, thirty-nine out of forty-seven legislators who favored an increase in coal truck limits received a total of $100,243 from coal, while twenty-four of the forty-eight who opposed the limits received a total of $14,695.

While some might argue that they wouldn't want their tax dollars supporting campaigns of politicians with whom they don't agree, as a taxpayer, I'm tired of paying for mess after mess heaped on the state by a coal industry that has the idea it's somehow above the law.

During the 2003 legislative session, the WV Clean Elections Act was taken seriously with the maximum number of House supporters and 11 co-sponsors in the Senate. This innovative legislation had bi-partisan co-sponsors in both the House and Senate. The lead sponsors were Delegate Jon Amores (Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) and Senator John Hunter. Although neither has publicly supported the Act, both Governor Bob Wise and Secretary of State Joe Manchin has been very positive in meetings with representatives from the Citizens for Clean Elections.

The bill has been placed in the 2003 interim session in a joint sub-committee of the House and Senate Judiciary committees for additional study. Interims begin Sunday May 4 and conclude in January 11-13, 2004. Calendar dates for all the sessions are listed here.

A public education campaign is now underway. If your organization would like to see a presentation on the WV Clean Elections Act call OVEC at 304-522- 0246 or WV Citizen Action Group at 304-346-5891.  Or send an email to Janet.

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