In 2004, West Virginia coal mogul Don Blankenship spend $3 million to elect a West Virginia supreme court justice — more money that all the candidates combined. The newly elected justice then cast the deciding vote to overturn a $50 million verdict against his Blankenship’s company, although a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court later required the state justices to rehear the case with Blankenship’s bought judge recused.
In response to this judge-for-sale incident, West Virginia enacted a pilot program to publicly finance judicial elections. Thanks to a a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a similar program in Arizona, however, West Virginia’s effort to fight corruption in judicial elections may never get off the ground:
West Virginia Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry accused Secretary of State Natalie Tennant of not following the law when it comes to the state’s election public financing pilot project. . . .
Loughry is the only candidate who is part of the funding option. Part of the state law would allow him to receive several hundred thousand dollars for his campaign if other candidates in the race for state Supreme Court spend a certain amount.
But the provision has been called into question by the state Attorney General after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar provision in an Arizona public financing law. A previous report said Tennant planned to follow the state Attorney General’s advice.
In enacting this law, West Virginia followed the lead of North Carolina, the only state that offers public financing specifically for judicial candidates. Yet, one month ago, a federal judge ruled North Carolina’s matching funds provision unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Arizona case.
As Justice Stevens warned in his Citizens United dissent, the conservative justices “unleashe[d] the floodgates” of unlimited corporate spend at exactly the same time that “concerns about the conduct of judicial elections have reached a fever pitch.” Yet Citizens United is hardly these conservatives only effort to give an upper hand to the wealthy in American elections. The Arizona case, and its likely impact on public financing in states like West Virginia and North Carolina, are a direct assault on America’s ability to fight public corruption.