CHARLESTON -- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant made the first contribution into the public fund designed to help level the playing field when it comes to paying for State Supreme Court races in 2012.
House Bill 4130 passed during the 2010 legislative session and went into effect 90 days after the session ended -– June 11. Participation is not mandatory but candidates who accept the funding must comply with all funding requirements.
To qualify for public funding, a Supreme Court candidate must first demonstrate statewide and significant support for his or her candidacy by collecting at least 500 contributions between $1-$100 from West Virginia registered voters. Those contributions must add up to at least $35,000 and must also come from registered voters in all three congressional districts.
Each candidate can receive up to $165,000 for a contested primary election, and up to $350,000 for a contested general election. More public funding is available to candidates whose opponents significantly outspend them with either personal funds or other campaign contributions. Independent expenditures by third party groups can also trigger additional public funding to participating candidates.
The money for public financing comes from a special fund set up by the Legislature. There are several sources for revenue including the State Auditor's Purchasing Card fund, a tax check off program, penalties levied by the State Election Commission, and private donations.
As the chief elections officer in the state, Tennant made the first donation of $250 on Friday. Since becoming Secretary of State, she has pushed for some type of public financing in West Virginia.
"I wanted to personally donate because I believe in this process that is trying to put ideas ahead of money," Tennant said in a press release. "This is not about any particular candidate, this is about public financing that would level the playing field so that all candidates' voices can be heard."
The Citizens for Clean Elections and associated groups also have been pushing for public financing measures in West Virginia.
"This opens up the process to a more diverse group of candidates and lets candidates who are not independently wealthy or do not have access to wealthy donors run for office," said Julie Archer of the Citizens Action Group.
The Secretary of State's Office has prepared a report that explains public funding. That report can be viewed at the Secretary of State's website at www.wvsos.com. The full text of House Bill 4130 can be viewed on the West Virginia Legislature's website.