This past special session of the West Virginia Legislature was highlighted by the squabbling over a campaign finance bill.
The session ran several days longer because of it, perhaps costing taxpayers another $120,000. The disagreement was along Democrat and Republican party lines and each side blamed the other for lengthening the session.
The bill amends a 2005 law that required the disclosure of contributions for advertising that clearly identified a candidate within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election. The Center for Individual Freedom of Virginia challenged the law and in April U.S. District Judge David Faber ruled non-broadcast ads are exempt and the law was unclear for mailings, phone calls, leaflets and e-mails. The center, which intended to run ads in the Supreme Court and attorney general races, promised to fight the new law, too.
Republicans claimed Democrats in the Legislature were protecting Attorney General Darrel McGraw in his re-election campaign against Dan Greear and were trying to defeat Beth Walker, a Republican running for Supreme Court, in the November election. Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, called the legislation the Darrell McGraw Re-election Act of 2008. That's good. I liked that.
Sprouse points out that Delegate Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, House judiciary committee chairman, who supported the bill, has several conflicts of interest: her law partner got a contract from the attorney general and her husband works for McGraw and makes $90,000 a year.
If Webster has a conflict of interest, so does Sprouse, who owns Sprouse Consulting, which is working for Greear's campaign. I perused Greear's campaign finance disclosures to date and saw more than $40,000 spent with Sprouse Consulting, however, much of that was for campaign-related costs. Anything Sprouse can do to help Greear's campaign can't hurt his company.
What's the difference between Webster and Sprouse? None. Sprouse says he never made it a secret, but that doesn't mean the conflict doesn't exist. Sprouse and Webster both should have removed themselves from the proceedings.
Republicans opposed the bill because they believe disclosure will hurt them and they may be right. In 2004, Don Blankenship of Massey Energy was a major financier of the campaign by For the Sake of the Kids to defeat the liberal Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, Darrell's brother. Four years later Blankenship may be the most disliked man in West Virginia. Justice Spike Maynard couldn't survive the Monaco vacation photos with Blankenship and lost the May primary for a second term.
Campaign disclosure ought to be a good thing, a non-political thing. However, the most logical argument I've heard against the bill came from Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. Republicans supported the 2005 law, but things have changed, he said.
"Unlike our Democrat counterparts, and unlike their chairman, Nick Casey, most Republicans have paid attention to changing circumstances," Blair said. "A federal judge shot down a large part of the 2005 bill. The United States Supreme Court just this week made it clear that compelling disclosure for the sake of compelling disclosure will not likely hold water."
Contact Jess Mancini at firstname.lastname@example.org