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.