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Clean Elections Advocates Promote Cure for Mud-Slinging

November 15, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Observers say election ads this year were remarkable for the shadowy groups using anonymous donations to fund a flood of negative attacks on candidates. But in 2012, West Virginia Supreme Court candidates will have the option to take public financing - and stay on the high road.

Julie Archer, project manager with the Citizens for Clean Elections Coalition, says the judicial hopefuls won't have to "dial for dollars." In the several states that have tried this, elections have been practically mud-free, she adds.

"North Carolina has had this option available to candidates since 2002, and they just haven't seen this kind of negativity and outside spending."

Ruling in the "Citizens United" case, the U.S. Supreme Court said free speech protections mean
individuals and corporations can anonymously fund as many attack ads as they want. The result has been a particularly nasty kind of politics, Archer says.

The state legislature voted for the public financing pilot project after an individual with a huge case before the state Supreme Court helped swing the election of one of the judges. Archer says it gave people the impression that justice is for sale.

"It has the effect of eroding people's confidence in our judiciary. With all elected officials, there's a perception that this money is corrupting - and that's not healthy for democracy."

To qualify for public financing, candidates have to receive a number of small contributions. Archer explains individuals can also make contributions to the fund that will distribute money to all the qualifying candidates.

"Citizens who want to support the program can make a direct contribution to the public fund, letting people run who aren't wealthy themselves or who don't have access to money from special interests and attorneys whose cases they may later decide."

Individuals can contribute to the public election fund by contacting the Secretary of State's office.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV