CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The first of what is expected to be several bills introduced this legislative session to try and restore confidence in government will be up for a final vote in the House of Delegates Monday.
House Bill 2319 requires disclosure of fundraising activities by a lawmaker within five days of the fundraiser if the fundraiser occurs during the 60 day legislative session.
“There will be near immediate access for the public to the information about who is contributing to a campaign while votes are being taken,” said House Judiciary Committee Vice-Chairman Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay).
The practice of holding fundraisers during the regular legislative session is not uncommon and actually is fairly frequent, particularly in an election year. Although legal, the activity has always been perceived with a high level of skepticism. Lobbyists often feel pressured, real or perceived, to make contributions and lawmakers are put into an uneasy position of accepting monetary contributions from organizations with legislation pending at the Capitol.
Legality isn’t the issue, perception is and for Hanshaw the matter causes a grave level of mistrust between voters and their elected representatives in Charleston.
“If you look at some of the data from the Pew Research Organization as recently as last year, we are reaching an all-time low in public confidence in government,” Hanshaw explained. “Nineteen percent of Americans, according to Pew, represent they have confidence in their government. That’s an impossible situation to sustain.”
There are some who would advocate making fundraising during the session completely illegal, but going that far could violate the First Amendment. According to Hanshaw the idea of doing so was discussed during debate over crafting the bill, but it was decided the disclosure was the better direction.
“Rather than invite a fight, we chose to go the route we have gone with the disclosure option,” he explained. “The intended effect will eventually become the end result.”
The intended effect isn’t to discourage lawmakers from fundraisers during the 60 day session according to Hanshaw, but it will probably be the result if the bill becomes law.