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Five Ways State Lawmakers Could Improve Campaign Finance Disclosures

Ashton Marra
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Representatives of the Brennan Center for Justice told state lawmakers Monday they’ve done a good job keeping up with the changing rules of campaign finance disclosures, especially after the 2010 Citizen’s United decision, but said West Virginia can do more to make the process more transparent for voters.

David Earley, counsel for the Brennan Center, presented recommendations to a subcommittee of the Judiciary, recommendations he said were for the most part in a bill they had considered during the 2014 legislative session, but House Bill 4463 to pass.

His recommendations were:

  1. Require a Top Donor Disclaimer: This disclaimer would require the top five donors to an organization or entity producing a political advertisement for radio or television be identified in some way during the ad. For television, the top five donors should be identified and for radio, the top two.
  2. Expand Electioneering Communication Window: Electioneering communication is an ad that runs close to an election, but does not explicitly tell the voter to vote for or against the candidate, often called issue ads. Currently, state code regulates those ads 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election. Earley recommended the ads be regulated 90 and 120 days out respectively.
  3. Covered Transfers: A covered transfer is the transfer of large amounts of money between two entities that are intended to be used for a political purpose. Often, individual donors will give to a middle man group who then sends the money to a PAC or other sponsorship organization, which allows the donor to hide behind the second organization in the transfer. Earley recommended requiring all artificial entities report their political transactions, including corporations, 501(c)(3)s, and limited liability companies, as an example.
  4. Accelerated Disclosure: HB 4463 required each time a covered organization engages in $10,000 worth of campaign-related disbursements, they be reported to the Secretary of State’s Office within 24 hours. Earley recommended extended that time to 48 hours.
  5. Disclosure to Shareholders and Members: The recommendation is modeled after a similar Iowa law. It required covered organizations include campaign finance filings in their regular reports to shareholders and other members.

Earley recommended lawmakers take up a bill containing these provision during the next legislative session.
Senate Judiciary Chair Corey Palumbo said a similar piece of legislation is not out of the question.

“I think most people are sensitive to how much money is being poured into politics," he said after the meeting, "and sensitive to the fact that the vast majority of the money that’s coming in is coming in from sources that we have no information about.”

Palumbo said, however, it was too early to predict what an actual bill before the legislature may look like.

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