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Three Candidates Now Airing Ads in West Virginia Supreme Court Race

With less than a month to go before Election Day, three candidates in West Virginia’s five-way race for a single supreme court seat have now purchased TV ad contracts worth a combined total of at least $274,140.

April 14, 2016

WASH­ING­TON, DC – With less than a month to go before Elec­tion Day on May 10, three candid­ates in West Virgini­a’s five-way race for a single supreme court seat have now purchased tele­vi­sion ad contracts worth a combined total of at least $274,140, accord­ing to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Bren­nan Center for Justice.  

The records show that ad contracts purchased by the campaign of former state legis­lator William “Bill” Wooton total at least $183,790. Ad contracts purchased by the incum­bent in the race, Justice Brent Benjamin, total at least $48,710. TV ad contracts purchased by the campaign of attor­ney Beth Walker total at least $41,640. No ad contracts have yet been recor­ded for two other candid­ates vying for the seat: attor­ney Wayne King and former state Attor­ney General Darrell McGraw, Jr. 

The ads can be viewed on the Bren­nan Center’s “Buying Time” website.  Ad totals are current as of 9 a.m. ET on April 13.

“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 and a co-author of Bank­rolling the Bench, a compre­hens­ive report on spend­ing in the 2013–14 judi­cial elec­tions by Justice at Stake, the Bren­nan Center for Justice, and the National Insti­tute on Money in State Polit­ics. “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.”

“We’re seeing encour­aging signs in West Virgini­a’s Supreme Court race so far,” said Susan Liss, Exec­ut­ive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpar­tisan nonprofit that advoc­ates for fair courts and tracks judi­cial elec­tion spend­ing. “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 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.”

Accord­ing to campaign finance disclos­ure reports, two candid­ates, Wooton and Benjamin, have received public finan­cing for their campaigns under the state’s public finan­cing program.  Accord­ing to the state disclos­ure website:

  • Justice Benjamin has repor­ted rais­ing a total of $534,050, includ­ing $483,489 in public fund­ing. 
  • Wooton has repor­ted rais­ing a total of $545,726, includ­ing $475,000 in public fund­ing.
  • Walker has repor­ted rais­ing a total of $170,076, and reports a loan of $250,000 from her husband, Michael Walker, to her campaign.
  • McGraw has repor­ted rais­ing a total of $52,867, and repor­ted loan­ing his campaign $1,360.

King has repor­ted rais­ing a total of $0, and repor­ted loan­ing his campaign a total of $13,860, which covers his filing fee and radio advert­ising expenses.