CHARLESTON, W.Va. —  A bill to raise West Virginia campaign finance limits to match federal levels, often nicknamed the “dark money bill,” generated long debate at the end of the long Friday House of Delegates floor session.

SB 622 raises donations to party executive committees from $2,000 to $10,000. And donations to PACs rise from $1,000 to $5,000. It allows something new: joint fundraising events for candidates, with the proceeds split evenly. It prohibits donations from foreign nationals

Members took up a number of amendments. Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, proposed to reduce the donation limits to current levels: $1,000, $2,000 and $1,000.

“None of our constituents asked us, when we were campaigning, we want more money in campaigns,” he said. Single-member districts approved last year were meant to allow for cheaper campaigns and more contact with constituents.

Judiciary vice-chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, said the state’s campaign contributions limits haven’t been updated for 30 years. The low levels require candidates to be fundraising more than meeting with constituents.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, responded that the state’s low campaign funding levels are something to proud of. He supported the amendment.

The amendment failed 42-55.

One to require disclosure of donors to caucus committees, which assist candidate campaigns, failed 41-56.

Another attempted to require disclosure of “dark money” covered transfers of $10,000 or more (where donors are hidden by giving to intermediary committees). Capito noted that this wouldn’t include donors to such organizations as the NRA or the Sierra Club. It failed 41-56.

Byrd proposed another to apply the new limits only to statewide races, not local House and Senate races. That led to a long debate about limiting the voice of small-dollar donors and what Pushkin called “dialing for dollars.” It failed 41-56.

The judiciary amendment passed 56-41. Going into the vote on the amended bill, Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said, “We are opening the floodgates to out-of-state money into our legislative races. This is horrible public policy.”

Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said he’d been conflicted on the bill, because he’s had success raising money. But he opposes it now.

Addressing his colleagues, he said, if you say money doesn’t influence how you think about and act on issues, “You’re absolutely lying.”

Delegate Terry Waxman, R-Harrison, said she didn’t run for the big donors; people asked her to run to change policies in the state and move it forward.

Delegate Tom Azinger, R-Wood, said that in his recent campaign, he raised $10,000 compared to his opponent’s $66,000. In the 2014 Senate race, the Democrat raised $200,000 compared to the winning Republican’s $50,000. “Money doesn’t win elections, votes do.”

It passed, 53-44 and returned to the Senate. Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, moved to title it “The Bought and Paid for Act of 2019.” There were chuckles, then it failed 38-59.

Secretary of State Mac Warner praised passage of the bill.

“Quick, accurate and transparent access to campaign finance information to all West Virginian’s will allow for sunshine on any corruption or even the appearance of corruption of politicians and allows for educated choices at the polls on elections day,” he said in a release.

“The strengthening of public disclosure and transparency in SB 622 are long overdue upgrades for West Virginia’s campaign finance laws,” he said. “West Virginian’s access to public campaign finances of candidates and political spending is instrumental for voters choices when exercising the democratic principles of our Republic.”

 

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