Who's Giving Money to West Virginia's Tax Reform Committee?
When Republican lawmakers took control of the state Legislature for the first time in some 80 years in 2015, party leaders maintained their legislative priorities wouldn’t change.
Over the past several years, the party has been pushing tort reform--something they accomplished during the 2015 legislative session--and initiatives to create a better business climate in West Virginia. Those changes are expected to come through the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform.
A committee that did not exist a year ago, some of its members were also not in the Legislature or in their current chambers this time last year. More than 1,600 donors contributed more than $1 million during the 2014 election cycle to elect members of the committee, with the exception of two Senators who were elected in 2012.
Contributions from Businesses, PACs and Organizations
Of the non-individual donors, or businesses, political action committees and other organizations, that donated to committee members, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce donated the most at $12,500. The Chamber was followed in donation totals by the West Virginia Bankers Association at $11,400, American Electric Power at $10,750, and the West Virginia Hospital Association at $10,600.
In West Virginia, non-individual and individual contributors are limited to making $1,000 donations per election. That means during one election cycle, which includes both a primary and general election, contributors can donate as much as $2,000 to a candidate’s campaign committee. However, candidates can contribute an unlimited amount of money to their own campaigns.
Who Raised the Most?
During the 2014 election cycle, newly elected Republican Sen. Ryan Ferns outraised any other member of the Joint Tax Reform Committee, receiving $341,746.40 in donations. According to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Ferns donated $207,695 to his own campaign.
“There are pros and cons to contributing money to your own campaign versus accepting donations from donors. To me, the obvious advantage is there [are] less implications that you're beholden to any special interest,” Ferns said Tuesday. “It’s hard for anybody to make an argument that I’m beholden to any special interest.”
“It’s unfortunate that campaigns are getting as expensive as they are, but I was outspent by my opponent.”
Ferns’ opponent in the 2014 election, Democrat Rocky Fitzsimmons, raised $481,331. He donated $221,000 of his own money to his campaign.
Following Ferns with the highest number of total campaign contributions were:
- Sen. Ed Gaunch (Kanawha County, R): $158,177.50
- Sen. Roman Prezioso (Marion County, D): $112,339.60
- Del. Eric Nelson (Kanawha County, R): $77,365.00
- Sen. Robert Karnes (Upshur County, R): $74,265.40
Sens. Gaunch and Karnes both donated notable totals to their own campaigns. Gaunch contributed $42,445, Karnes $55,595. Sen. Prezioso’s totals are from the 2012 campaign cycle.
Contributions from Legislative Leaders
Both Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead are members of the Select Committee--yet both are non-voting members. Speaker Armstead did not contribute to any other Tax Reform Committee members' campaign. Cole, however, donated to four members:
- Del. John O’Neal (Raleigh County, R): $250
- Sen. Ryan Ferns (Ohio County, R): $2,000
- Sen. Ed Gaunch (Kanawha County, R: $2,000
- Sen. Robert Karnes (Upshur County, R): $1,000
The committee will hold its next meeting on Oct. 5 at the Capitol. An agenda for that meeting has not yet been posted.
Below is another interactive data visualization exploring individual campaign contributions by legislator as well as contributor.