In a recently filed federal lawsuit, a West Virginia independent expenditure political action committee says a Secretary of State policy that prohibits independent expenditures by corporations limits free speech rights. Stay the Course West Virginia and its chairman David Bailey along with Pineville Lumber Inc. and Kanawha County voter Thomas Stephen Bailey filed the suit May 23 against Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Mercer County Prosecutor Scott Ash. Bailey created Stay the Course West Virginia to make independent expenditures supporting the re-election of certain incumbents before the state’s November general election. However, the state’s election code prohibits a person from contributing more than $1,000 to candidates running for any public office, the suit states. “Any person violating any provision of West Virginia Code… is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or confinement in jail for not more than one year,” the suit notes.
The suit seeks to prohibit enforcement of the statutes and also seeks class certification of all West Virginia prosecuting attorneys, who would be represented by Ash. Before 2010, state code provided no corporation could contribute “anything of value to a corporation” to “any candidate financial agent or political committee” and prohibited the solicitation of corporate contributions. The previous law also established a penalty for violation of a fine up to $10,000.
In 2010, lawmakers rewrote code and “does not expressly prohibit” corporate contributions to a political action committee for election expenses. “Its prohibition of corporate contributions is limited to contributions to ‘any candidate or candidate’s campaign,'” the suit notes. However current code did prohibit solicitation of corporate contributions to “any candidate or candidate’s committee.” The law kept the penalty of a misdemeanor charge and fine of up to $10,000.