Recent federal court rulings appear to threaten West Virginia’s $1,000-per-election cap on contributions to political action committees that spend independently of candidates, U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston said at a Wednesday hearing. But Johnston held off ruling immediately on whether to block the cap temporarily. Stay the Course West Virginia and two of its would-be contributors, an individual and a corporation, sued in May alleging the state limit chills their free speech rights. They requested the preliminary injunction pending the outcome of their lawsuit. With 97 days before the general election, the independent expenditure PAC says it seeks to support certain incumbents while targeting their opponents.
The lawsuit targets Secretary of State Natalie Tennant as West Virginia’s elections chief. Doren Burrell, a senior assistant attorney general representing Tennant, told Johnston that individual contributors and other kinds of PACs face the same cap. “The West Virginia law is tailored to provide a uniform opportunity for all citizens to have that voice, to exercise that speech … It applies equally to all people,” Burrell said. Burrell also noted that West Virginia has sought to bolster its campaign finance oversight in the wake of a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin from hearing cases involving Massey Energy Co.
The 5-4 ruling found a substantial risk of bias because the coal company’s then-chief executive, Don Blankenship, had spent more than $3 million to help Benjamin win election in 2004. Most of the money went to an independent expenditure PAC. “The West Virginia law addresses good government, fair government,” Burrell said.
Full Article: Rulings doom W.Va. PAC donations cap, judge told.