This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

May 8, 2008

3rd parties spend heavily in W.Va. high court race

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON -- Non-candidates have spent enough on West Virginia's Supreme Court race to exceed or rival the candidates themselves in all other statewide primary contests, including the campaign for governor, finance report filings indicate.

Third parties have so far disclosed more than $617,000 in advertising promoting or targeting the four Democrats and one Republican seeking the two seats up this year on the state's highest court.

Such spending continues in advance of Tuesday's vote. The total does not include an array of "electioneering communications" freed from reporting requirements by a federal judge's ruling last month in a legal challenge of state disclosure laws.

The ads include a television spot that seeks to remind voters of the now-infamous vacation photos showing Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard in Monaco with Massey Energy Co. chief executive Don Blankenship. The West Virginia Building and Construction Trades has reported spending more than $172,909 on the ad through its political action committee.

Several cases involving the coal producer were pending before the court at the time of the July 2006 meet-up. Maynard has withdrawn from a number of Massey-related appeals since the photos became public in January. He has denied any wrongdoing, and attributes the rendezvous to his decades-long friendship with Massey's president, chairman and CEO.

The state Chamber of Commerce has plunked down more than $416,000 on an ad campaign in defense of Maynard, a Democrat and the sole incumbent running. Its Harrison County affiliate has spent another $1,842 on newspaper ads, while West Virginians for Life has supported his candidacy with $8,900 in mailings.

The state AFL-CIO, meanwhile, has targeted Maynard with mailings to its members. Like the other labor group, it will report its spending through its PAC, said President Kenny Perdue.

"We're trying to inform our members as to Maynard's relationship with Don Blankenship," Perdue said.

The PAC for West Virginia's Medical Association, which represents doctors, also plans to report its spending on several pro-Maynard radio ads after the primary, treasurer Amy Tolliver said. Neither she nor Perdue had estimates of their respective spending.

Also unknown is spending on non-broadcast ads that do not specifically tell people to "vote for" or "vote against" a candidate. An April 22 order from U.S. District Judge David Faber blocks disclosure rules governing such other media as mailings, fliers and phone calls unless they contain that "express advocacy."

Faber ruled in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Individual Freedom. Based in Alexandria, Va., the group wished to weigh in on the court race but did not want to detail its spending or identify its donors. Among other issues, the center advocates limits on lawsuits and jury damage awards.

It won the preliminary injunction, arguing the state law was fatally vague and not in line with federal law and rulings on the topic. But the Supreme Court candidates so far report no sign of any ads from the group, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The third-party spending ups the ante in an already expensive race. The five court candidates together had devoted nearly $1.5 million toward their efforts as of April 27. All but $55,787 of that had been spent by the Democrats.

With Gov. Joe Manchin facing a poorly funded Democratic rival, and an uncontested Republican awaiting the outcome, that race had seen $644,775 expended by late April. The next most-expensive statewide contest has been for secretary of state, with three Democrats and one GOP hopeful together spending $361,586.

As limited by Faber's ruling, non-candidate disclosures show $211,609 spent on ads in other races. They include $75,400 by the Service Employees International Union in support of House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock, who is running for secretary of state. Several labor groups and West Virginians for Life have spent at least $85,000 on mailings and ads naming an array of legislative candidates.

The American Alliance for Economic Development Inc. has spent $50,000 promoting Manchin's re-election. it is co-funded by the state Chamber and the Democratic Governors Association.

Non-candidate spending had also marked 2004's Supreme Court race, and included an estimated $3.5 million bankrolled by Blankenship to help now-Justice Brent Benjamin defeat an incumbent. The disclosure law targeted by the federal lawsuit responded in part to such spending.


Voter-Owned Elections

Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246