Do legislators want to keep us in the dark about campaign finance law?

Recently, members of the WV Legislature had a chance to help clean up West Virginia elections.  They took a vote on a bill amendment to shine light on who contributes “dark money” to groups that spend money on political ads, so that voters could actually know who’s trying to influence their votes and their elected representatives.

They voted it down.

The amendment was proposed for SB 622, a bill which legislative leaders claim would “increase transparency” about who’s funding elections.  But while the bill creates an online filing system that would make PAC and other campaign activities easier to look up, it also raises campaign contribution limits for individuals, parties, and PACs.  And because the bill doesn’t close loopholes that allow groups to hide the identity of their donors, it doesn’t actually do much for transparency.

A few politicians and their buddies are claiming that the we can’t require PACs to fully disclose their donors because of the Citizens United ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided that campaign spending is speech protected by the First Amendment.  But in an often overlooked part of the decision, an 8-1 majority of the Court held that disclosure is constitutional, saying that “disclosure requirements may burden the ability to speak, but impose no ceiling on campaign related activities and do not prevent anyone from speaking.” Disclosure, the Court said, “enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”  

In other words, it’s totally legal to require federal PACs to tell us who’s behind all the money they’re giving to West Virginia candidates.  So why are politicians like Senator Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) spreading misinformation about the law? Maybe they don’t want us airing out dirty laundry about who their donors really are.