An independent political action committee and a group of potential donors are suing West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the state’s prosecuting attorneys, arguing that some of the state’s election laws and policies violate their First Amendment rights. Stay the Course West Virginia, an unaffiliated independent expenditure PAC; David Bailey, chairman and treasurer of Stay the Course; Pineville Lumber Inc., a West Virginia company and potential donor; and Thomas Stephen Bailey, a resident and potential donor, filed their complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Wednesday. In addition to Tennant, the plaintiffs name Scott Ash, prosecuting attorney for Mercer County, as a defendant in the suit. He is being sued as the representative of class of 55 prosecuting attorneys in the state, who are responsible for enforcing the criminal penalties associated with the state’s Election Code.
In the plaintiffs’ 19-page complaint, they say Stay the Course was established for the sole purpose of “soliciting contributions in order to make independent expenditures prior to and with respect to the West Virginia general election” on Nov. 6. The independent expenditures, they say, will support the reelection of “one or more incumbent state government officeholders who have contributed to improving the West Virginia business climate and strengthening the West Virginia economy.” However, Stay the Course and its potential donors argue that the state’s election laws are holding them back from doing just that.
Currently, the Election Code prohibits a person from contributing more than $1,000 “in connection with or on behalf of any person engaged in furthering, advancing, supporting or aiding the nomination or election of any candidate for any (statewide or other public office).” In particular, the code prohibits a PAC, like Stay the Course, from accepting contributions of more than $1,000 from any one person prior to the primary election, and of more than $1,000 from any one person after the primary and before the general election.