- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia Ethics Commission says state lawmakers can’t use targeted lists of likely voters when sending letters to constituents prior to elections.

The Charleston Gazette reports (https://bit.ly/1yd46Di ) the commission’s ruling applies to mailings paid for by the Legislature.

The commission ruling says targeted lists of likely voters can’t be used in the state-funded mailings within 60 days of an election.

Commissioner Betty Ireland says the commission can’t restrict legislators’ ability to correspond with constituents, but the use of likely voter lists clearly constitutes campaigning.

“That action cannot be realistically construed as anything but an attempt to influence voters,” she said. “It’s just out-and-out blatant that’s what you’re looking for.”

Ireland noted Congress has a 90-day window before elections where the practice known as franking is prohibited.

“If the federal government does that, and there’s not a lot that the federal government does now that appeals to me, I thought, that’s a good thing,” she said.

The commission’s advisory opinion doesn’t stop legislators from sending constituents letters prior to elections as long they don’t use targeted mailing lists. The newspaper report it also does not prohibit legislators from mailing letters to targeted lists of voters within 60 days of an election, as long as they personally pay for postage and production costs.

“This is a very narrow prohibition, but I think it is all we can do under the Ethics Act,” said Commissioner Mike Greer.

The commission set the 60-day standard for the election season to correspond with a prohibition on accepting ethics complaints against candidates within 60 days prior to an election.

Commissioner Jack Buckalew, a former state senator, advocated Thursday for an outright ban on the practice known as legislative franking.

“I don’t think we should allow it at any time,” said Buckalew, who said letters to constituents are “obviously politically motivated.”

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com

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