The West Virginia Senate passed two bills Monday that would lower political contribution transparency in state elections.
The House of Delegates will now consider the bills, which would increase contribution limits that trigger reporting requirements for those spending money to influence legislation coming before state lawmakers or advocate electing or defeating a political candidate without a candidate’s support.
The Republican supermajority Senate passed Senate Bills 508 and 516 over united opposition from the chamber’s three Democrats, with very limited GOP support.
Currently, any person who spends more than $500 in a three-month period or $200 in any one month to present a program to the public designed to influence legislation must register with the state Ethics Commission as a sponsor of a “grass roots lobbying campaign” under state law.
Under SB 508, those reporting thresholds would be raised to $5,000 and $1,000, respectively.
The campaign sponsor must report the names and addresses of each person contributing $25 or more to the campaign to the Ethics Commission under current state law.
Under SB 508, the $25 threshold would be raised to $1,000.
SB 516 would increase the threshold to report contributions toward advocating for or against a candidate not in coordination with a candidate, their political committee or a political party committee from $250 to $1,000.
The lobbying covered by SB 508 isn’t direct lobbying of lawmakers but lobbying public opinion instead.
“Grass roots lobbying is when organizations like mine or other entities are spending money targeting the grass roots, targeting the public to call you and influence your position on legislation,” Julie Archer, project manager of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, a progressive advocacy organization, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that advanced the bills last week.
Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, spoke out against both bills on the Senate floor Monday. Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, spoke out against SB 508 and was the sole Republican to vote against both bills.
“Would you agree that there is there is less transparency if this passes than what we have currently for money involved in political races?” Woelfel asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan prior to passage of SB 516.
“I will agree, but it’s only in a minor agree,” Trump replied.
Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.