Delegates defeat ‘dark money’ bill, before changing course to pass it

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

At 3:25pm on Friday, the House of Delegates voted 61-35 to reject SB508. The bill increases how much money lobbying groups can raise without publicly reporting their donors. By 5:06pm, delegates reconsidered their previous action and voted 49-41 to approve the bill. 

SB508 was sponsored by Senator Mike Azinger. It passed the Senate on Feb 13 by a vote of 29-4. 

Under current state law, a “grassroot lobbying” campaign must disclose the names of donors who contribute more than $25. In addition, anyone who spends more than $200 in one month or $500 in a three-month period as part of such a lobbying campaign must register with the Ethics Commission as a lobbyist. 

The largest such lobbying campaign in 2022 came from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative/libertarian lobbying group founded by Charles and David Koch. According to the Secretary of State’s office, they spent more than $250,000 in the last election cycle in West Virginia supporting tax cuts. 

SB508 increases the thresholds from $25 to $1,000 for individual donors. For lobbyists, it increases the reporting threshold from  $200 to $1,000 and from $500 to $5,000. Any financial political activities below these amounts are not required to be reported, according to the bill. 

During the first floor debate, a number of delegates argued against the bill saying it would increase the amount of “dark money” (unreported political financial activity) in the system. 

Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley

Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, said, “I cannot in good conscience vote for this bill.” A bipartisan coalition formed to defeat the bill, 61-35. 

Delegate Eric Brooks, R-Raleigh

Approximately one hour later, Delegate Eric Brooks, R-Raleigh, made a motion to reconsider the previous vote. House rules allow this, so long as the member who makes the motion voted on the prevailing side. 

Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh

Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, rose in support of the reconsideration, arguing that regular citizens such as “homeschool moms” needed a political voice and shouldn’t be required to report their financial activity at the current thresholds. 

Following a debate, the bill passed by a tally of 49-41. Nineteen delegates switched their votes, including Brooks. 

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, expressed his disappointment, saying, “The WV Legislature voted down expanding dark money and then 30 minutes later changed their mind. Quite frankly, it’s sad.” 

SB508 has now completed legislative action and heads to the governor’s desk.

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