Three candidates in a five-way race for the West Virginia Supreme Court have purchased television ad contracts worth a combined total of at least $274,140, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said on Thursday. The election will be held May 10.
TV ad contracts purchased by the campaign of former state legislator William “Bill” Wooton total at least $183,790; by incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin, at least $48,710; and by attorney Beth Walker, at least $41,640. No ad contracts have yet been recorded for two other candidates, attorney Wayne King and former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, Jr.
“We’re seeing encouraging signs in West Virginia’s Supreme Court race so far,” said JAS Executive Director Susan Liss. “TV ad spending is not excessively high, candidates are using advertising to talk about their qualifications while avoiding attack ads and smear campaigns, and no outside spenders have jumped into the mix. Compared with what we’ve seen in judicial elections in other states so far this year and even in West Virginia’s own history, this is a significant improvement.”
“West Virginia is one of only two states that provide public financing for judicial elections, giving candidates the option to run competitive races without needing to rely on special-interest dollars,” said Alicia Bannon, Senior Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Around the country, lawyers and business interests are the most common contributors to judicial races. Public financing helps judges avoid conflicts of interest, where contributors appear before them in court.” The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.
“West Virginia decided to limit big donors’ potential power in the courtroom. Thankfully, since implementing this important reform, our Supreme Court elections haven’t been contentious or the target of huge outside spending. A month out from the election we’re glad this trend appears to be continuing,” said Julie Archer, Project Manager with WV Citizen Action Group and a co-coordinator of WV Citizens for Clean Elections. “Our state’s judicial public financing system has also given us, the voters, the ability to choose a judiciary that is truly independent because publicly financed candidates don’t have to rely on support from lawyers and special interest contributors who frequently have cases before the court.”