By Bob Weaver

The WV GOP-controlled legislature is pushing a bill that would eliminate all campaign contribution limitations in West Virginia and allow for unlimited donations to candidates running for public office from private citizens or corporations.

Senate Bill 541 would make significant changes to the state’s campaign contributions laws and reporting methods.

It also eliminates restrictions on political action committee’s donations to other PACs, many of which play major roles not only in national elections, but in West Virginia down to state senate and house of delegates races.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson), the current Senate Majority Leader, said campaign contribution limitations are unfair.

“Why should anybody be limited as to what you could give to a candidate that you support,” he said.

Carmichael, who is a vice-president of Frontier Communications, defended the bill, saying “What happens now in these campaigns, it would do away with shadowy organizations and third party groups that are funneling money into entities that the candidate has no control over the message.”

In addition to eliminating the current $1,000 cap a person or committee can donate to political candidates, the bill also would remove the current prohibition on corporate contributions to political campaigns. It also eliminates restrictions on political action committee’s donations to other PACs.

The bill would also place limits on the amount of money state political parties would be able to donate to various candidates, although political parties are funding candidates at much less rates.

State political parties would not be able to give more than $250,000 to gubernatorial candidates, $100,000 to state senate candidates and $50,000 to those running for the House of Delegates.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, asked if the bill would permit Chinese nationals to contribute unlimited amounts of money to candidates running for office in West Virginia.

Woelfel was told under the provisions of the bill, Chinese nationals or most any corporation could likely donate unlimited amounts.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, questioned whether judicial candidates would also be permitted to receive unlimited contributions, with the response being yes.

“I can’t believe we’re even thinking of this,” said Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier. Miller said an amendment to the bill should be added that would require lawmakers to begin wearing patches signifying the corporations that donated to them.

Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said “It opens the floodgates to out-of-state, untraceable anonymous corporate money to buy elections in West Virginia…It’s a ‘Citizens United’ bill that’s run amok on steroids.”

The US Supreme Court, in the Citizens United decision, essentially open the door and gave corporations personhood, the same rights as individual US citizens.