By Erica Young
West Virginia Press Association Capitol Reporter
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate Bill 622 is on third reading Friday in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
The bill has generated discussion during the final week of the 2019 legislative session, and extensive floor discussion on the bill is expected on Friday.
The legislation, sponsored by Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, relates generally to the regulation and control of election finances. The purpose of the bill is to make significant revisions to the law regulating election financing. The bill modifies what qualifies as a federal reporting exemption. The bill permits a political committee to transfer funds to a national, state or local committee of a political party without limitation. The bill permits a political action committee to contribute to another political action committee. The bill permits candidates, after a general election, to transfer any unused contributions to state party executive committees, state party legislative caucus committees, local committees of a political party or any other candidate for public office without limitation.
Prior to coming the House floor for a vote, the bill was passed out of the Senate and then discussed in detail in House Judiciary.
Supporters in both the Senate an House say the bill brings West Virginia laws more in line with other states.
However, critics say the bill only injects more money into West Virginia politics.The bill has drawn significant opposition from legislators and lobbyists alike. The biggest issues, critics say, focus on raising of campaign contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,800 for candidates to $5,000 for PACs and $10,000 per year for party committees, and not requiring full transparency about where campaign funds are coming from.
Julie Archer, project manager for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, has actively been lobbying against the bill. She and her group say the bill “completely fails to address the flood of secret money in our elections” and doesn’t allow citizens to be as informed as they should be in terms of the sources of donations.
She said, “It’s just outrageous … it’s so hard for average voters to have their voices heard among the wealthy and those trying to buy our elections.”
Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, has also been one of the bill’s most vocal opponents. Lovejoy said he doesn’t mind if people or organizations spend money on election campaigns, but that transparency should be required so that others can look at who donated money to certain efforts.
Lovejoy also says he is uncertain about the amount of money politicians will be permitted to raise (the bill triples this amount) and how it will affect West Virginia citizens.
He said, “Not one person ever said, ‘Please go to Charleston and fight for more money in politics’.”
The increase in campaign funding is one of Lovejoy’s issues with SB 622. The others are the reduction of penalties for failure to report campaign spending, the increase in last-minute electioneering (such as television ads in the few days before an election) that cannot be reported, failure to provide transparency, and a possible amendment that would not require reporting if a caucus is raising money during the legislative session.