looked to the public.
"The new law woke people up," Chambers
improper appearance, even if
there are no improper actions."
In the old days, lobbyists reportedly delivered cases of alcohol to
legislators, and free mixed
drinks were served out of a hallway closet.
As recently as the late 1980s, coal companies operated an exclusive
hangout for legislators,
called the Coal Suite. Perry Bryant remembers
a legislator taking him to see the suite on the
top floor of the
Charleston House Holiday Inn. He was a lobbyist for Citizens Action Group
the time; today, he lobbies for the West Virginia Education
The suite had a free open bar, a buffet stocked with shrimp and
couches, a big television. It was open late
into the night.
"Legislators were a long way from home, with little to do," Bryant
feed them, befriend them. They'd talk about
anything but legislation."
This subtle form of influence-shaping surprised Bryant. The Coal Suite
helped him realize how
money helped build relationships, which led to
access to legislators and more.
Even though the Coal Suite no longer exists, lobbyists still curry
favor with legislators
through meals and receptions, Bryant
"It's a subtle form of influence-buying," he
against your friends."
Knowing who spends the most
The West Virginia EthicsLaw required lobbyists to
disclose their employers and how much they
spent on meals, gifts and
campaign contributions. But this is just the tip of the iceberg
In Maryland, lobbyists must disclose almost every dollar they spend:
"We want to know who spends the most to get the very best," said John
O'Donnell, director of
the Maryland State Ethics Commission for
21 years. "We want to capture the total effort."
In 1999, Maryland lobbyists spent more than $23 million. If they
reported only what the West
Virginia law requires, they would
have only reported $757,356 in spending.
The West Virginia Ethics Commission doesn't have the power to
"It's a fundamental problem," Chambers
formal complaint, they
have no investigating authority. They don't have
the support to be more aggressive."
Stronger disclosure laws
In May, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Public Integrity rated
disclosure laws for all 50
states. Disclosure laws require legislators
to tell the public about their personal finances
and other things that
could cause a conflict of interest for them.
West Virginia ranked 43rd. Its disclosure laws do not require any
information about the
finances of immediate family members, for
The Ethics Commission also has no way of ensuring that the
information provided by legislators
is accurate or complete.
CPI ranked Washington state first in its disclosure laws. Washington
disclosure of financial interests for legislators and
their families, according to Doug Ellis
with the Washington Public
Disclosure Commission. His commission can also initiate action
something appears to be missing or wrong with a filing.
"The public needs proof that officials are acting in the public
interest and not for private
Campaign finance reform: 'the ultimate solution'
In addition to better disclosure, West Virginia Citizen Action Group is
calling for reform of
the campaign finance system. As campaigns become
more expensive, candidates become more
beholden to contributors, the
The cost of a legislative campaign keeps rising, said Norm Steenstra,
director of CAG. Its
analysis of 1998 data showed that between 1996 and
1998, legislative campaign spending grew 10
times as fast as the cost
CAG is calling for "Clean Money" legislation, which has already passed
in Maine, Vermont,
Arizona and New Mexico. Candidates would qualify for
public funding if they refuse
contributions from special interests.
"It's the ultimate solution," Steenstra
enables all other reforms."
To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or phone 357-4323.