CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Ethics Commissioners got into a lengthy debate Thursday over whether to bar a county economic development authority from soliciting funds to underwrite the county's "Day at the Legislature" -- before determining that could have a chilling effect on numerous groups' events at the Capitol.
In the request for an advisory opinion, officials with a county economic development authority asked whether it could solicit contributions from local businesses to fund a county "Day at the Legislature," featuring displays in the Capitol, box lunches for legislators and participants, and an evening reception at the Culture Center. The funds would also be used for charter buses to bring participants to and from Charleston.
The county that requested the opinion was not identified, but Commissioner Betty Ireland recused herself from voting on the opinion.
Commissioner Douglas Sutton raised concerns that such an event is a way for businesses to lobby the Legislature without having to register as lobbyists.
"There's a reality of who pays, and what they want, and what they get in return," he said.
Sutton said he was concerned that a major business in a particular county could underwrite the entire cost of the county's "Day at the Legislature" in order to have the participants lobby for a tax break or other piece of legislation that the business operator wants.
Commission chairman Kemp Morton agreed.