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Jane Peak: West Virginia Elections Corrupted by Dark Money - Gazette

Submitted by on Wed, 02/11/16 - 15:33

West Virginia Gazette, November 2, 2016--In 1774, John Adams said, “Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them we have no other fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle and fed and clothed like swine and hounds.”

Our Founding Fathers understood this. They established the United States as a republic, with a representative government elected by the people. In our Bill of Rights, they guaranteed our right to trial by jury.

Under our Constitution, there are two places where every American is supposed to be equal — at the ballot box and in our courtrooms. Today, both are seriously threatened and are on the brink of destruction. Who would want to destroy rights so fundamental to our country and her citizens?

Our Founding Fathers knew the answer more than 200 years ago.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln echoed Jefferson and wrote, “The money powers prey upon our nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of diversity. [They] are more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. They denounce as public enemies all who question their methods or throw light upon their crimes.”

Our election process has been corrupted. While it’s still one person, one vote, true equality no longer exists. Billion-dollar corporate special interests and their millionaire CEOs spend big money to elect lawmakers who will do their bidding. They get policies that benefit them; the rest of us get nothing. They get to increase their corporate profits and earn millions more in salaries; taxpayers are left holding the bag.

What’s more outrageous is they don’t want voters to know who they are. Look at West Virginia’s own elections. Corporate CEOs hide millions behind front groups and Super PACs so we don’t know who wrote the checks. They mislead us more by giving the groups deceiving names like Grow West Virginia, West Virginia Future PAC and Mountaineers Are Always Free. These groups don’t care about West Virginia or the people who live here.


Grow West Virginia is involved in House and Senate elections statewide, but voters don’t know who’s funding the group — and probably won’t until after the election. It spent big money in 2014 too. According to Open Secrets, Grow spent nearly $1.5 million that year. More than $800,000 came from two front groups — the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform and Go West Virginia, groups that don’t have to disclose who funded them.


CEOs hide their donations by giving to the front group which then funds the political effort. It’s wrong.


Go West Virginia started raising money for 2016 elections last year. One effort was a $25,000 per person dinner last January. An event planned for March 2015 was a $100,000 per person breakfast, but it was canceled after information was leaked to the press. Clearly, Go West Virginia didn’t want reporters finding out who could afford to pay $100,000 for breakfast and telling the rest of us.


And what did these donors get for their big money? They bought themselves West Virginia legislators who believe helping CEOs increase corporate profits is the first priority, not doing what’s best for the people they were elected to represent. They made it easier for foreign workers to come in and take away our jobs and pushed through a prevailing wage law that helps corporations increase profits by paying workers less. They passed laws that limit corporate accountability when workers or consumers are injured or killed because of negligence or because of a dangerous product that shouldn’t have been on the market. They reduced important consumer protection laws that leave you powerless against corporate misconduct. They restricted, and in some cases eliminated, your constitutional right to jury trial. They even blocked proposed legislation that would have established new election disclosure laws so voters would know who was behind these top-secret groups.


Now, they want more.


Only you, as a West Virginia voter, can stop them. The wealthy and the powerful don’t own our government. It belongs to us. Tell these front groups and the legislative candidates they support that the West Virginia people are the West Virginia Legislature’s first priority. Reject candidates who want us to take a backseat to corporate CEOs and leave us powerless while millionaires line their pockets at our expense.


Make your voice heard on Election Day. As Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg Address, it is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” It is time that we stand up and take it back.


Jane Peak, an attorney with Allan N. Karlin and Associates in Morgantown, is president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.


Read the original article in the West Virginia Gazette