Senate Backs Bill Amending Election Contribution Laws

Mar 4, 2015

During an evening session on the final day to approve bills in their originating chamber, members of the state Senate passed a bill that would make major changes to election contribution laws in West Virginia.

The body began debating the bill more than a week ago that when introduced would have removed all contribution caps for candidate donations and allowed corporations to begin giving to West Virginia races.

For a brief time Wednesday, Sen. Donna Boley oversaw the proceedings in the Senate chamber as President Bill Cole excused himself from voting on a bill dealing with car dealerships. Cole owns multiple dealerships in West Virginia and other states.
Credit Martin Valent / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Members of the Senate's Judiciary Committee debated the bill Tuesday striking many of the provisions Senators previously objected to and adding stricter reporting requirements.

Senate Bill 541, as approved by the chamber Wednesday evening on a 28-6 vote, would raise the current individual contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,600, the federal contribution limit, and index it for inflation. 

Corporations will continue to be barred for donating to candidates in the state under the bill, but the legislation also prohibitions donations from unions, a new provision. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump explained on the floor Wednesday while they cannot give directly, union and corporation members are still able to form political action committees to contribute to candidates should the bill become law.

Reporting requirements were Democratic Sen. Mike Romano's main focus who told the body before a vote he said had problems with the bill, but would support it because of the reporting changes.

The bill requires third party organizations, like political action committees, disclose only the names of donors who give up to $250 to the Secretary of State's Office. Donors who give above that amount will be required to disclose more information, like addresses. 

The Secretary of State's Office under the bill is required to maintain a searchable online database of campaign contributions and disclosures. 

“This bill more than any other measure we take here will allow for clean, honest, transparent, accountable elections," Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, the bill's lead sponsor, said Wednesday.

"We can never stop the dark money, we can’t shut it down, but we can make sure it’s disclosed, who the contributors are to these entities."

Carmichael said increasing contribution limits and requiring more disclosures will allow candidates to maintain control of their message during an election instead of being defined, as they often are, by third party messaging. 

The bill will still need to be approved by the House of Delegates before it can be sent to the governor for a signature.