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W.Va. doesn't require finance reports for levy, other noncandidate votes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The group that fought for the passage of a Kanawha County Schools and libraries levy, which ultimately failed last Saturday, will voluntarily file a public finance report, even though West Virginia law does not require it to do so.

Tom Heywood, a Charleston lawyer and chairman of The Kids Education Yes (KEY) Committee, said the group spent about $142,000 in an attempt to pass the school excess levy, which would've brought in about $24.4 million for schools in 2014 and protected the county's library system from major cutbacks.

That money came from individual donors, with the largest contribution being $10,000, according to Heywood.

The KEY Committee plans to file a public list of its donors and expenditures with the Kanawha County Clerk within a few weeks, although it's not necessary under state law.

That's because campaigns dealing with school levies are designated as "issue advocacy," instead of "candidate advocacy," and don't require the same transparency as elections for a particular person, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

"Regardless of whether it's required, it's simply our intention to make a filing so that all of our contributors and those who worked on the campaign know that every penny is accounted for," Heywood said.

Groups of citizens that spend funds to advocate for or oppose a levy or bond issue are not required to form a political committee and, therefore, are not required to file public finance reports.

The levy was overwhelmingly rejected last weekend, with 76 percent of voters against it.

Nelson Robinson, a Charleston lobbyist who led a campaign against the levy, told the Gazette-Mail he spent about $15,000, mostly in advertisements against the levy, but does not plan to volunteer further financial details about the campaign.

"I contacted a few Kanawha County friends who I thought would be concerned, should the levy pass and seriously affect their business. I explained to them I would pledge any monies received towards educating the general public on what the impact would be in their household or business and I, of course, would not be paid for my organizing the campaign," Robinson said. "I also told them I had confirmed there were no reporting requirements and I would not share with anyone from where the funds were generated.

"I must fulfill that pledge and, therefore, will not divulge from whom the monies were generated."

Robinson did tell the Gazette-Mail, though, that there were 12 donors -- all Kanawha County residents involved in business.

In addition to Kanawha County Board of Education President Pete Thaw, others who campaigned against the levy include a new conservative political action committee whose leaders are affiliated with former Republican and libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul.

The Liberty PAC was filed with the Secretary of State's Office on Oct. 27 by Gina Anders, who is a coordinator with West Virginia's branch of Paul's group, Campaign for Liberty. The group opposes gun-control laws and wants to repeal Obamacare.

Joel Coon, who helped run the KEY campaign, told the Gazette-Mail that pro-levy efforts were hurt by last-minute "robocalls" made by the Liberty PAC.

On its official Liberty PAC of West Virginia Facebook page, the group takes credit for the failure of the school excess levy, saying, "Now that liberty activists have stopped the Kanawha County school board's attempt to raise property taxes by 50 percent, its on to the next battle. Great job Kanawha County."

Prior to the election, the group's Facebook posts warned the levy would increase taxes up to $500 a year.

In an anti-levy advertisement paid for by Robinson, he used an example of how the tax increase would have impacted owners of a home with an assessed value of $156,960 and vehicles assessed at nearly $70,000.

According to Kanawha County Schools, for a person with a home appraised at $100,000 and vehicles appraised at $15,000, the tax increase would've amounted to about $125 per year.

When the Liberty PAC files its first required financial report with the Secretary of State's Office, the public might learn some information about who has contributed money to that organization. However, the group will not be required to disclose any of its expenditures in any issue-related campaigns, such as the levy election, said Jake Glance, spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

Glance said that under federal court rulings, it is unconstitutional to require the reporting of campaign expenditures unless the expenditures are specifically urging voters to cast their ballot for or against specific candidates for public office.

Courts have found that some regulation of campaign spending on individual candidates is permissible because of the risk of corruption. They also have decided that contributions tied to ballot measures pose no similar risk of corruption, according to a summary of campaign finance rulings from the Congressional Research Service.

"We get calls about issue advocacy a lot during election time, especially whenever there are levies, because people will put up signs or billboards that say something like 'Support the kids,'" Glance said, "but as long as they don't say to vote for so and so, no disclaimer is required on the sign."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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