For nearly three hours Thursday, the State Elections Commission went through public comments on the state’s new campaign finance law received from more than 50 people — many as part of a coordinated effort by West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections.
The effort is intended to clarify and clean up points in the legislation before it begins the rule-making review process in the Legislature.
“Right now, we’re trying to give the public as much clarity as we can,” said Donald Kersey, chief counsel in the Secretary of State’s office.
The new law (Senate Bill 622) has been criticized for significantly raising amounts of money that individuals can contribute to candidates and political action committees, while lauded for closing loopholes that allowed independent expenditure groups to avoid filing financial disclosures with the state.
The Commission will meet again July 26 — the deadline for agencies to submit rules for consideration by the Legislature during the 2020 regular session — to give staff time to research legislative intent for some of the more nebulous parts of the legislation.
That includes a section of the new law that defines a “nonpolitical committee” — essentially, an organization established for a primary purpose other than supporting or opposing candidates — a term that is then not referenced in the rest of the legislation.
The Commission also struggled Thursday with language intended to clarify that a political action committee is a group of two or more individuals “unrelated by marriage.”
Intended to avoid a scenario where an individual who bought an ad for or against a candidate using a check from a joint checking account could be prosecuted for failing to register as a PAC, commissioners ultimately opted to delete the phrase.
Julie Archer, with the West Virginia Citizens Action Group, suggested the phrase could create a new loophole for avoiding campaign financial disclosure.
“I know there are some wealthy couples out there that have been active in national politics,” she said.
Many of the public comments prompted clarifications in the proposed rule, among them:
- Clarifying that the campaign finance regulations apply to non-partisan judicial elections;
- Adopting Federal Election Commission regulations for determining the “fair market value” of in-kind contributions. The legislation failed to provide a way of determining “fair market value” for goods or services contributed to campaigns when reporting such contributions.