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Kessler Pushes Election Reforms

June 17, 2008
A federal court has struck down West Virginia’s new election law requiring organizations that buy political advertising to disclose where their money comes from, and state Sen. Jeff Kessler said he has yet to hear whether changing the code will be part of a special legislative session later this month.

He and other supporters of the law want it back on the books before the 2008 general election season kicks into full gear.

“I will be calling the governor’s office,” said Kessler, D-Marshall, chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee. “I have not heard that it is a contentious or partisan issue. (Senate Minority Leader) Don Caruth, R-Mercer, has expressed a willingness to address the issue as well. It is not a political hot potato.

“This law does nothing more than require full disclosure of money that is being used to sway elections,” he continued. “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to derail it.”

The Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom brought the suit challenging the disclosure law, asserting it violated their free speech. U.S. District Judge David A. Faber ruled in their favor and allowed the group to purchase advertising for the state Supreme Court primary election without disclosing its donors.

Faber termed the new law “too vague,” adding that it didn’t specify what types of advertising is subject to disclosure. Federal disclosure laws pertain only to broadcast advertising.

“The plaintiffs said the law could have a chilling effect on free speech,” Kessler said. “The judge said the law contained no legislative findings as to why we should require disclosures, but I think we can overcome that relatively easily.

“There is no more important duty to the function of democracy than elections, and we can’t ignore the significant role money plays in elections,” Kessler added.

Kessler noted that “the right of people to petition government” is thought to be “more in line with the written press,” and that “written communication is less subject to political money to influence elections.”

“This lawsuit is an attempt to subvert the level playing field and rules we all have to play by,” Kessler said.

He added that opponents of the law simply don’t want any limits to what they can say against a candidate.

“They want the ability to say what they want without any accountability,” he said.

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