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Good Chance WV will Publicly Finance 2012 Supreme Court Races


Monday, March 1, 2010   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In 2004, coal executive Don Blankenship spent millions to help elect a West Virginia state Supreme Court justice, who voted to overturn a ruling that would have cost Blankenship's company a lot more money than that. This week however, state lawmakers are likely to advance a pilot project to allow public financing for the next two state Supreme Court races.

Carol Warren, who is coalition coordinator for the group West Virginians for Clean Elections, says Governor Joe Manchin is backing the proposal to that effect of a judicial reform commission chaired by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"West Virginia has gotten such a black eye over the last few years. People like knowing that their candidates for public office are not taking money from outside interests, that their judiciary has not been unduly influenced."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court loosened the rules on corporate money in elections. Warren says that decision is making public financing more popular. And she says the candidates who take public money have just as good a chance as those who fund their campaigns in other ways.

"People who are publicly financed do not automatically lose; in fact, many of them win."

Like similar public campaign finance plans in other states, candidates in the pilot project would get so-called "rescue funds" if their opponents receive huge amounts of corporate campaign donations. Warren says that in other places that provision has managed to cut third-party spending.

"The amounts of those expenditures have actually seemed to decrease, because the people spending the money have caught on to the fact that, when they do spend money against a candidate, that candidate just then gets more money."

The West Virginia proposal would give candidates for two court seats the option of taking about $500,000 in public money, if they qualify by getting enough small donations from around the state and agreeing to limit other donations.

Opponents of public financing say the government has no business spending tax money on campaigns. Warren points out the pilot project would not have to be funded by taxes; it could be funded by court fees.

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