This report was the work of senior
Kelsey Spang who looked into how campaigns are financed.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money
equals speech, political spending has reached an all time high. The decision called Citizens United said that
corporations are citizens and as citizens they have the right to spend as much
money as they can afford to support or oppose any candidate.
The amount of money spent on campaigning is raising
eyebrows. Take running for President of
the United States
for example. For a job that pays just $400,000 a year, the campaign of Republican Mitt Romey has spent $530 million and incumbent Democrat Barack Obama has spent $618 million.
A national poll by the Brennan Center for Justice
says that 70 percent of Americans see that increased spending is a public concern.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the state’s chief election’s
officer, sees an increase in campaign spending over the year.
“I think if you look at some of the campaign finance reports from
candidates there may be more spending than different races than previously.”
“It is good to analyze
race by race and specific cases. You measure it by the tolerance of a voter and
how much advertising. The more money you have the more chances the candidate is
West Virginia has already
taken one step to fix this perceived problem. The Legislature has initiated a
pilot program to finance campaign spending.
“This is very big and can do great things in the future.” Tennant
explains. “I personally have said,
having campaign financing allows more voices to be heard. With more voices and
more ideas, you will have a more quality election.”
The Secretary believes that there are three other ways that voters can
respond to the concern about increased campaign spending. Research the
candidate on your own.
“The first is the voters need to be researching the candidate instead
of depending on the commercial.”
She says candidates need to use more grass roots campaigning.
“Grass roots campaigning is a good option if a candidate does not have
a lot of money.” Tennant notes. It takes volunteer work and going door to door
and phone calling if you don’t have the funding to put commercials on.
And she says the public Airwaves need to be given to candidates.
“Public airwaves should be used to give people use of public airtime
to get their message out - tv and radio.”
Senate President Jeff Kessler also has some options to address the
voter concern of campaign spending. He said that voters need to know where the
money’s coming from.
“We need to focus on the disclosure requirements so voters can
identify the donors and sources of money.” Kessler says. “We can’t stop corporations from spending, but
we can reveal their identities.”
Senator Kessler says if the identities of the donors are disclosed,
voters can make inferences necessary to make an informed decision
“For instance, if one candidate
is receiving money from coal companies, he or she will most likely not support
bills or laws for mine safety.”
Kessler also thinks more transparency is needed.
He says that someone could file a thousand campaign finance reports
but without a declaration of where the money is coming from filing such reports
is not going to do anyone any good.
“We have to do it as
candidates.” Kessler explains.
“I have to give detailed expenditures of every
penny in and every penny out. I have never felt that keeping people in the
dark. I have an inherent trust in the voting public, and particularly WV
citizens to do the right thing when they are given the accurate information.”
Both the Secretary and Senate President say that the West Virginia legislature
has the opportunity to implement all of these solutions, including public
The Legislature has already dipped
its toe in that pool when it enacted an experiment in public financing of State
Supreme candidates. How the legislature
acts on campaign finance reform may depend on how much West Virginia voters
demand of them to address it.