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WV Campaign Finance Watchdogs: Election Reform Emergency

June 16, 2008

Charleston, WV – West Virginia is in the midst of an election reform emergency. Senate and House Judiciary Chairs were first to sound the alarm; now, faith organizations, civic groups and campaign finance watchdogs all are asking for a quick response from lawmakers, in the form of a special legislative session.

A judge recently suspended a campaign finance reform law that requires certain groups to reveal who is paying for political advertising. And Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, says without the law, the public doesn't know who is footing the bill - information that voters need because, in some cases, it could reveal ulterior motives about the messages contained in the ads.

"We think a very important component is to know who is funding political ads on the airwaves and flyers that you get in the mail."

The judge ruled there are constitutional problems with the law, which was passed nearly unanimously in 2005 after millions of out-of-state dollars went into a negative ad campaign during a Supreme Court race. Opponents of the law said it stepped on free speech rights. Zuckett insists that's not the intent; that its goal was to give voters a clear view of the money trail in politics.

"We're not hindering anyone's freedom of speech. What this is, is the freedom of the voters to know who's paying for the ads that they're reading and seeing on TV."

Now, it's up to Governor Manchin to make the call on whether to hold a special legislative session. Some say it would be too expensive, and that the issue could be taken up instead in the next regular session.

Deborah Smith/Steve Powers, Public News Service - WV