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Could Public Financing Restore Credibility To WV’s Supreme Court?

May 26, 2009

Charleston WV – An election watchdog group is proposing an idea for restoring the reputation of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Several current and former justices came under a cloud after accepting campaign donations and gifts from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, a coal baron with important cases before the court. The situation has drawn national attention from legal scholars, including a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and even earned a place in a John Grisham thriller.

Julie Archer with Citizens for Clean Elections says one way to help restore the court's image would be public financing of supreme court races. She says it's a necessary step to correct the harm done by the scandal.

"That situation has given rise to concern that justice is for sale, and it has damaged the concept of an independent judiciary."

Critics of public financing say the government has no business subsidizing politicians. They also contend that limits on political contributions impede free speech.

However, Archer says, public financing of judicial races has succeeded elsewhere in the country.

"Public financing is working in other states, most notably North Carolina, where the majority of the appeals court judges were elected using public financing."

Archer suggests that the state put a pilot project in place to try public financing for the 2012 races.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV