Governor Jim Justice signed into law a bill on Wednesday that increases the limits on campaign contributions by individuals, as well as a bill that cuts taxes for coal companies.  

Senate Bill 622, sponsored by Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, increases campaign contribution limits to $2,800 for candidates, to $5,000 for political action committees, and up to $10,000 per year for party committees. Current limits for each category are set at $1,000.

Proponents of the campaign finance bill, such as West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, had pointed to provisions of it that increase transparency in some ways. Opponents had focused on the part of the bill that increased contribution limits. 

Julie Archer works for West Virginia Citizen Action Group, a left-leaning advocacy group, and heads a coalition of groups focused on election spending and transparency, WV Citizens for Clean Elections.

Archer said the legislation is "disastrous for ordinary West Virginians who are really struggling to have their voices heard over the special interests" and "a favor to the wealthy and special interests."

She also argued that provisions of the bill could have been separated. 

She noted that the bill requires electronic reporting for all independent expenditures and electioneering communications, as well as all financial statements filed by political action committees. She also noted that it would begin requiring federal political action committees who spend money on state elections to file disclosures with the secretary of the state.

But she also argued that as campaign finance legislation, the bill does nothing about "dark money."

She said Democrats attempted to amend the bill at least twice to require disclosures by donors that "funnel" money through groups.

"It really is a missed opportunity to do something more meaningful," she said. "It does increase transparency in some small ways but it doesn't address the biggest problem that we have, which is secret money, and we feel like we can do better and the voters of West Virginia deserve better and they deserve to know who's trying to influence their votes and their elected officials."

Justice, who owns a family coal mining empire across Appalachia, also held a signing ceremony for a bill to cut severance taxes for coal companies Wednesday. 

"I think in some ways you can say this bill is probably related to coal getting a tax break," Archer said.

House Bill 3142, sponsored by Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, cuts the severance tax on thermal coal, also known as steam coal, from 5 percent to 3 percent over three years.

Proponents of the bill have noted that counties will get their normal cut – 12 percent of thermal coal severance taxes. That share would go no lower than counties' share during the 2019 fiscal year.

But the bill also leaves 88 percent of the severance tax on steam coal that state lawmakers have to replace in the state budget. Lawmakers anticipate a $20 million loss in revenue the first year, $40 million the second, and $60 million each year after that.

West Virginia Department of Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow has told lawmakers that while no study had been done on the projected economic impact of the bill, he predicted the market would continue to decline, possibly at a slower pace.

Email: ebeck@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @3littleredbones

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