BECKLEY – A state Supreme Court candidate is asking a fellow candidate if she wants to be viewed as being a “purchased justice.”
Bill Wooton says a recent influx of advertising by the Republican State Leadership Committee is “an attempt to influence the outcome of our non-partisan Supreme Court race.” According to filings with the Secretary of State’s office, the RSLC has spent a little more than $2 million on the ads in the last two weeks.
Those RSLC ads are critical of Wooton and former Attorney General Darrell McGraw, calling them political “insiders” and members of the “old boy network” who “milked taxpayers dry.” The ads also promote Beth Walker as “strong, conservative, qualified” and “the best choice.”
In a May 2 letter to Walker’s campaign, Wooton said the RSLC “is funded by ‘dark money’ from Washington, D.C., promoting your candidacy and attacking my reputation.”
“They seem to believe, as Don Blankenship did 12 years ago, that they can purchase a seat on West Virginia’s Supreme Court for a candidate who will do their bidding,” he wrote, also asking Walker’s campaign if she or anyone associated with it have been in contact with the RLSC.
He also asks Walker to “immediately seek to stop this group from attempting to buy a seat on our Court.”
“It is my sincere hope that your integrity will call you to act, and that you contact this group and ask them to cease their advertising in West Virginia,” he wrote. “I am publicly asking that all third-party advertisements cease as well.”
Wooton notes that at least one RSLC ad refers to Walker as “independent.”
“It is absurd to make the claim that you can be ‘independent’ from people who spend far more than your campaign has legitimately raised –money from highly questionable sources outside this state – in order to put you on the Court,” he wrote. “This seems to be an attempt to repeat the election of 12 years ago that put a shadow over our Court and led to national embarrassment.
“At this moment, your integrity is called into question, while the integrity of the Court upon which you wish to serve is threatened, as well.”
A spokesman for Walker’s campaign said what the RSLC does is out of their hands.
“Beth Walker is focused on meeting voters and sharing her beliefs in her own advertising,” Joe Reidy said. “She has no control over third-party spending in any race. It is unfortunate that a candidate would question her integrity and reputation for political gain.”
A spokeswoman for the RSLC also discounted Wooton's comments.
“The RSLC is an independent organization that has conducted its engagement in the West Virginia Supreme Court race completely independent of the candidates who are running," RSLC Communications Director Ellie Wallace said. "Any effort by Bill Wooton to suggest otherwise is simply an attempt to deflect from the real issue in this race: his record.
"His record shows his history of profiting off of West Virginia’s taxpayers – even admitting that their hard-earned tax dollars go to pay off a mortgage. Voters have a right to know who each of the candidates are, and Bill Wooton and his disappointing record are no exception.”
Wooton said he has run a positive campaign based on his credentials.
“Now … $2 million in out-of-state ads are blanketing our airwaves with distortions, exaggerations and lies,” he said. “Twelve years ago, the same tactic was used to buy a seat on our Court, and it led to national embarrassment.”
In the 2004 election, Brent Benjamin defeated incumbent Warren McGraw (Darrell’s brother) for a seat on the bench. Blankenship, the former Massey Energy CEO, spent about $3 million of his own money through a Political Action Committee to defeat McGraw. When Massey later had cases before the court, Benjamin refused to recuse himself. The matter eventually was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Benjamin – along with McGraw, Walker and Wooton – is running for the seat this year, as is Clay County attorney Wayne King. The non-partisan election is May 10.