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Out-of-State and Sometimes Secret Money Moving Into Local WV Judicial Races

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Monday, November 5, 2018   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Big Republican money - much of it from out of state or unknown donors - is going into nonpartisan West Virginia judicial elections.

The Republican State Leadership Committee's Judicial Fairness Initiative has spent about $70,000 on the race for Kanawha County circuit judge - a significant amount for such a local, nonpartisan contest. Julie Archer, coordinator for the Citizens For Clean Elections Coalition, said it's part of a move by GOP organizations over the last few years to put millions into state and local judicial races around the country.

She said the donors' names often remain secret.

"How can we fairly evaluate the messages when we don't really know who's behind them?” Archer said. “So I hope that as voters are being bombarded this election that they take that into account - who are the people behind these ads and why are they trying to influence our elections?"

Last week, one of the Judicial Fairness Initiative’s fliers was called "false and misleading" by a court official familiar with the case it described. The group also has been sued for making false claims in an Arkansas court race.

West Virginia-based groups allied with the Judicial Fairness Initiative joined to spend big in the 2016 and 2018 state Supreme Court races. The groups have argued publicly that courts in the state are biased in favor of trial lawyers and their plaintiffs, giving the state a poor business climate.

Archer said their aims and backing are often murky. She pointed to one group that has local officers but which has received at least half its funds for this year's judicial races from out of state.

"In the Supreme Court and also at the Kanawha County Circuit Court race, they're calling themselves West Virginians For Fair Courts,” she said. “They want people to think that it's a group of West Virginians that are supporting these particular candidates, but the money is actually coming from outside of West Virginia."

One of the officers at West Virginians For Fair Courts is a longtime political aide to coal barons Don Blankenship and Bob Murray. Filings by the group list two big donations for all of 2018 - one from a national tort-reform group and one from a state tort-reform group. Some of the state tort group's money may also have come ultimately from national sources.

More information on donations to state races can be found at the the West Virginia Secretary of State's website.


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