TEST End Election Buying

What WV Can't Wait for

We believe in the principle of “one person, one vote.” We’ll have a government that works for all of us, once we make sure the wealthy few can’t buy it.

Whose Side We’re On

What We’re Up Against

We held more than ten thousand voter-to-voter conversations last summer. We asked people what they would do if they were governor, what issues kept them up at night.

There was one answer that came up 5 times more often than anything else. It came up more than roads, or schools, or safe water, or overdose deaths, or jobs.

The number 1 issue? Political corruption.

As one of our union buddies put it: “If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.” And we’ve been on the menu for too long.

We see it everywhere. 88% of West Virginians oppose giving public money to private charter schools, but the bill passed. The public relations guy for the controversial Rockwool facility in Jefferson County is also the House Majority Leader. Last May, instead of funding a state Black Lung Pension Fund for miners and a nursing home in Beckley for veterans, lawmakers voted to give $60 million more to out-of-state coal executives.

Every inch of our tax code is rigged so that the people who have the most pay the least, and the people who have the least pay the most. That is no accident. Wealthy interests have been buying elections and votes in West Virginia for decades.

How? Through gaps in the law relating to contribution limits that say that an entire union can only contribute $2,800 to a state campaign, while a millionaire can kick in unlimited money to his or her own campaign to run. Corporate executives and shareholders can form PACs and 501-c4’s to get around that limit too. And lobbyists have nearly free rein in their access to candidates and government officials. The end result is always the same: if you have more money, you have more say.

Fast forward to election day, and the same corporate PACs that got the same wealthy people elected, now have those officials’ ears. It’s no surprise when our black lung pension fund is traded in for tax breaks for coal barons. Or when issues like campaign finance reform, severance tax raises, and full cannabis legalization don’t even make it onto a committee agenda.

Here’s how bad it is: researchers estimate that companies receive a return on investment (ROI) from lobbying consistently higher than hedge funds (with some studies suggesting ROIs of 5,900% to 22,000%).

What matters in politics is who you serve. Right now our political system is a rigged game that serves the wealthy. It doesn’t have to be this way. We will change the rules.

Our Plan

  1. Level the playing field on campaign contributions. You shouldn’t have to be rich to serve your state–and the wealthy won’t save us.
  • Offer public financing for all state elections. Pass a public financing program that combines elements of the Clean Elections Models (passed in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine) with Matching Funds Models (passed in Florida and Hawaii) to ensure that low-income candidates that secure early support from small donors are able to compete with large dollar donors
  • Cap maximum campaign donations for statewide races at $500 per cycle, per race. This will apply to individuals, LLCs, and Corporate PACs. Labor union PACs could donate up to $500 per union member who opts in to political expenditures.
  • End self-funding. Pass a law so that no candidate for office can loan more than $1,000 to their own campaign and pass a constitutional amendment capping a self-funding contribution to $1,000. We would be prepared to argue the merits of this law, if challenged in federal court.
  • Closely enforce election law to ensure that wealthy candidates are not skirting the law through our new White Collar Crime Division in state police, which will investigate corporate crime and political corruption.
  1. Limit the influence of lobbyists and dark money.
  • Ban corporate lobbyists from participating in campaigns. This will include a ban from donating to political campaigns, holding political fundraisers, buying meals or vacations for lawmakers, or holding meetings with candidates that go unreported.
  • Institute a lifetime ban on former legislators, state office holders and judges from becoming lobbyists. It should also be illegal to be a lobbyist and a legislator at the same time.
  • Cap dark money and demand transparency. Cap maximum expenditures by 501c4 and other “dark money” or third party groups to $5,000 per election cycle, per race. Expenditures for 501c4’s and other third-party groups (such as 501c6s and 527s) will be taxed at $1:1 rate (a 501c4 wishing to spend $700 on a particular race will be charged a $700 tax bill). Most important, we will force 501c4’s and other third party groups operating in West Virginia to publicly declare their donor lists. Additionally, all lawmakers will have their donor lists publicly available on their legislative websites and outside their offices. All candidates for office will also be required to make public their income tax filings.
  • Institute a lobbying tax. Out-of-state corporations will pay a $10,000 lobbying license fee. Non-profit organizations and in-state companies will pay a $100 lobbying license fee. The first $10,000 in lobbying expenditures will be taxed at a 10% rate. Every additional dollar will be taxed at a 100% rate.
  1. Eliminate barriers to citizen participation.
  • Make every vote count. Too many people are kept from the polls. We support all of these initiatives for simplifying voting:
    • Double the number of polling places during early voting; expand the number of polling places by 50% on election day
    • Institute same-day registration
    • Install vote-by-mail as an option  
    • Reinstitute paper ballots for all elections
    • Make general election day a holiday; move primary election day to a Saturday or West Virginia Day
    • Put forward proposals that permit Ranked Choice Voting and Fusion Voting. This will allow people to vote third party without “throwing away their vote”
    • Repeal the Voter ID law, and implement and expand automatic voter registration
    • Establish an accessible, fact-checked, on-line voter guide. This will include print, audio, and braille versions available in libraries.
  • Restore voting rights for every West Virginia citizen, and make drivers licenses available to every citizen, 18 and older.
  1. End gerrymandering. Establish a non-partisan office to draw the lines for electoral districts moving forward.

How We Pay For It

This plan is built to be revenue neutral.

A lobbying fee will generate roughly $1 million (assuming roughly 95 out-of-state companies, and 500 local organizations). The lobbying tax will generate roughly $5-10 million / per year; lobbying expenditures are difficult to track (currently West Virginia only tracks direct expenditures such as meals, etc.; not the salaries paid to lobbyists), and it is reasonable to suspect that some lobbying expenses will be curbed to avoid the tax. Independent expenditure organizations spent roughly $3 million in the 2018 election. At a 1-for-1 tax, that will net another $3 million every two years.

The above fees and taxes could generate roughly $15 million every two years — enough to publicly fund 200 delegate races at $10,000 each ($2 million); 40 senate races at $50,000 each ($2 million), and reserve an additional $11 million every two years ($22 million every 4 years), to be distributed during statewide elections.

These reforms should be phased in over time.

Every one of our New Deal plans was written by West Virginians.

  • Our volunteers asked 11,000 of their neighbors, “What would you do if you were Governor?”
  • Our candidates attended 197 Town Halls, taking notes in community centers, church basements, union halls, and small businesses.
  • Educators met after work to start sketching out their perfect school.
  • Nurses traded ideas on the picket line.
  • Our county and constituency captains ratified a first platform in the fall of 2019 and updated it in the spring of 2020 to reflect the current pandemic.

But the legacy of this New Deal dates back to John Brown and Mother Jones, to the United Mine Workers of America and the suffragettes, to the Poor People’s Movement and the CIO.

No one politician or slate of candidates can win this plan alone. We need you.

If you have an idea for how to make this plan stronger, or if you would like to lend a hand to win it, contact our candidate for Governor Stephen Smith at stephen@wvcantwait.com.

Related New Deals

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We have hundreds of volunteers in every corner of the state, and a growing slate of candidates who will need our help in 2022. It will take 1,000 leaders not 1 to win a West Virginia that works for all of us.