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Opinion: W.Va. Delegate Robinson calling on Governor Justice to veto of SB 622

Delegate Robinson calling for veto of 622

By Delegate Andrew Robinson

D-Kanawha, 36th District

On Friday, March 8, 2019, late in the night after most of the news media had finished their stories for the day, Senate Bill 622, also known as, “The 2019 Bought and Paid for Act,” was forced through its last step in the legislative process. “The 2019 Bought and Paid for Act,” is comprehensive campaign finance legislation. This bill is monstrous in both size and content, but not many in the Majority Party stood to support this legislation until coaxed into the discussion by delegates from the Democrat Party. This legislation enacts a laundry list of items disguised as “transparency” and “good caampaign finance policy,” as our Secretary of State claims.  However, the transparency that this bill provides is limited, and the bill adds enough dark money into politics to completely wash away any relevant transparency.

Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-36th

“The 2019 Bought and Paid for Act” does, as the Secretary of State claimed in his March 15th editorial, require those pesky federal Political Action Committees (PACs) to make disclosures. However, what Secretary Warner left out of his commentary is that those disclosures are limited to the expenditures of the PAC, because why would we ever need to know what contributors are actually behind those nasty commercials and mailers.

The argument has been made this bill was simply to implement “sunshine laws” to deter bad actors from taking advantage of loopholes and blind spots in the law. “Sunshine laws” would be a noble intent for legislation; however, this bill also nearly triples the contribution limit for individuals and PACs alike. Maximum individual contributions will raise from $1,000 to $2,800; contribution limits to Caucus Campaign Committees and State Party Executive Committees will multiply ten times from $1,000 to $10,000 a year; and allowable donations to PACs will increase from $1,000 to $5,000 a year.

At one time the Republican Party, then in the minority in both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature, had real concerns about fundraisers during the two-month legislative session. This is a reasonable concern we should all have, as mid-session contributions could directly influence how members acted on legislation. Now times have changed.  There is a new majority party at the statehouse, and legislators rarely hold fundraisers during session, as they are required to disclose those contributions within five days due to a law passed in 2017. However, Campaign Caucus Committees were not included in that 2017 legislation that strengthened campaign contribution disclosure requirements.  Campaign Caucus Committees are usually reserved for Democrat or Republican Caucuses to raise funds for helping retain caucus members or gain seats in the Legislature for their party. So, in the middle of legislative session, a group, such as the West Virginia Republican Legislature Committee, could hold a fundraiser in between the morning and evening floor sessions. At this fundraiser wealthy contributors and organizations can give up to $10,000, and then members could immediately return to the State Capitol to act on legislation.

It is possible that I have just not been around long enough, as I have only served three years in the Legislature, but I have never seen the Majority Party fall in line so easily. The Majority Party of the House of Delegates, all fifty-nine Republican members, excluding the member presenting the bill, sat quietly as the House Democrats railed against the bill. Amendment after amendment was voted down on party lines, amendments that included requirements for PACs to disclose contributors, requirements that Campaign Caucus Committees disclose contributions during legislative session and an amendment to keep maximum contributions to current limits. Almost every member of the Majority Party sat quietly and voted against these amendments. In my three years in the State Capitol, I have never seen anything like it and hope I never do again.

Money in politics has ruined the process that our founders so carefully constructed. We routinely elect the people supported by out-of-state donors and now, thanks to the “2019 Bought and Paid for Act,” we will never know who is actually funding the typically nasty campaign rhetoric. Real campaign finance reform is needed to bring back transparency to our elections, but I can guarantee you that this was not it. I would recommend to anyone interested in “good campaign finance policy,” “transparency,” “sunshine laws” or anything of the sort to be very critical of this legislation. I extend that recommendation for you to be critical of anyone who attempts to sell this legislation as anything other than inviting more dark money into West Virginia elections.

I would encourage all West Virginians to contact Governor Justice’s office to urge a veto of Senate Bill 622 – The 2019 Bought and Paid for Act.

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