One of the more uncomfortable (and potentially unseemly) activities during the annual regular session of the West Virginia Legislature is political fundraisers. Historically, it’s been a common occurrence for some lawmakers to have receptions during the 60-day session where supporters are expected to attend and donate money to the candidates.
It could be argued by some politicians that the timing makes sense—they are in Charleston, attention is focused on politics—but the practice sets up an unhealthy atmosphere. Lobbyists will tell you they feel pressured to attend and contribute, especially if they have bills pending during the session.
It’s an awkward dance that makes all parties uncomfortable and at least creates the impression that financial contributions are linked to the success or failure of legislation. That’s why House Bill 2319 is important.
The bill, which has cleared the Judiciary Committee is now on second reading in the House, stops short of preventing fundraisers—that would likely be unconstitutional—but it does
significantly increase the disclosure requirements during the session.
The bill says any member or candidate committee that has a fundraising event while the Legislature is in session “shall disclose the existence of the event and the receipt of all contributions, including the source and amounts, within five business days after the fundraising event.”
Currently, the entire regular session passes without any such disclosure. The first hint we get now is in May when lobbyists make their first of three annual reports where their political donations would become a matter of public record, but by then the regular session is already over.
One bill supporter said HB 2319 should serve as a sort of “Scarlet Letter,” shaming politicians into avoiding trying to shake down lobbyists during the session. Imagine the controversy if a disclosure shows that the chairman of a powerful committee accepted contributions from groups in favor of (or against) a particular bill while that bill is pending before his committee?
We understand that politicians need to raise money, and races are getting more expensive all the time. We also know that contributions come from individuals and groups who support particular candidates or their positions. Not every contribution should be viewed as the opening for a quid pro quo.
However, the fundraising that comes during the regular session is much closer to a tawdry connection between money and policy. HB 2319 won’t eliminate that, but it should at least discourage what has become a common practice in Charleston, especially during election cycles.