Small improvements have led to progress in the effort to clean up election financing in West Virginia; however, much more is needed.

Decades could be spent passing incremental reforms seeking to patch a fundamentally flawed system. It's time for a comprehensive approach to campaign finance reform that will fundamentally improve and preserve our democratic electoral process.

The West Virginia Clean Elections Act is a voluntary system modeled after laws in Maine and Arizona where 63% and 37% of the state legislators, respectively, are now free from special interest ties.

"Voter-owned" elections had broad bi-partisan support, saw more women and people of color get elected, and increased voter participation. Arizona elected the nation's first governor who owes her successful campaign to the people, not special interests.

To qualify for public financing candidates must pass a threshold test by collecting a substantial number of small contributions from registered voters in his/her district.

Qualified candidates must agree to accept no private contributions and refrain from spending their own money and in exchange they receive a modest amount of public money to run their campaign.

Over the past several months Sub-Committee B of the Joint Judiciary Committee has been studying The WV Clean Elections Act (now the "Public Campaign Financing Act").

In December, Clean Elections cleared a major hurdle. Both Sub-Committee B and the full Joint Judiciary committee voted the bill out without recommendation. Its passage even without recommendation, allows the discussion and debate to continue.

Central to the debate had been whether or not it is fiscally responsible to use taxpayer dollars to fund candidate' campaigns. Unfortunately, under our current funding system it is increasingly difficult for the average West Virginian to effectively participate in our democracy, either to be elected to public office or to be heard above the special interests that finance campaigns.

Comprehensive campaign finance reform is needed to reduce the influence of special interests in the political process and to enable more qualified candidates to seek elected office.

Undoubtedly, a major hurdle for passing a Clean Elections law will be finding a stable funding mechanism. The legislative interim committee studying the Clean Elections Act received a report from a Charleston-based law firm on potential sources of funding for public financing.

This analysis identified sources outside of general revenue accounts. The Reform Institute, a Washington, DC based educational organization working on campaign finance and election reform issues, commissioned the study. Hopefully lawmakers will take a closer look at this analysis as they consider the Clean Elections Act during the regular session.

- Co-authored by: Janet Fout, Coordinator, Citizens for Clean Election, a coalition of twenty-eight organizations supporting Clean Elections legislation in West Virginia, and Co-Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Huntington, WV 304-522-0246 and Julie Archer, Research Director, West Virginia Citizen Action and the Mountain State Education and Research Foundation, Charleston, WV 304-346-5891.

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