CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's Supreme Court race is the most expensive of the May 8 primary, with the six Democrats seeking nomination for the two seats up this year together spending $1.4 million.
The candidates reported their totals on April 22 along with combined balances of nearly $590,000, indicating that the price tag could increase significantly during their primary contest's final two weeks.
Former State Bar President Tish Chafin led the pack for spending at $732,000, just shy of half the overall total. While Chafin raised about $170,000 from contributors, she loaned her campaign $1 million to provide the bulk of its funds.
Chafin, 48, practices in a trial law firm with her husband, state Sen. Truman Chafin of Mingo County. Her personal wealth allowed her campaign by far the largest balance of the six candidates, just over $438,000.
Justice Robin Davis, the sole incumbent running, spent $543,127 in her third statewide bid for her seat. First elected to an unexpired term in 1996, Davis has self-funded her latest campaign with $360,000. But Davis has also raised $239,000, the most among the candidates.
Greenbrier County Circuit Judge Jim Rowe has loaned his campaign $10,700 and seen it raise another $157,400. Rowe had $57,531 left as of April 22, a slightly larger balance than Davis', after his campaign spent $110,600.
Rowe had the strongest fundraising of the field during the March 21-April 22 pre-primary reporting period, attracting more than $60,600.
Wood County Circuit Judge J.D. Beane had a $35,500 balance after gathering nearly $90,000, solely from fundraising events. A former House of Delegates member, Beane noted the ethical rules that require judicial candidates to seek all funds through a campaign committee.
"As a legislator, I can seek endorsements and I can be handed contributions. I can actually solicit help," Beane said. "As a judge, under the judicial code, I can't do that."
Supreme Court law clerk Louis Palmer has provided nearly all of the $30,000 reported by his campaign, and had $1,120 on hand. Rounding out the pack, candidate H. John Rogers has sworn off campaign contributions and is conducting his bid out-of-pocket. The Wetzel County lawyer reported spending about $2,500.
West Virginia's Supreme Court races have attracted national attention for the money spent both by candidates and outside groups and individuals seeking to influence the outcome. With each seat up this year carrying a 12-year term, the trend is expected to continue, said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
The Brennan Center tracks the campaign finances of judicial races nationally, and is critical of the escalating price tag. It reported earlier this year that fundraising in state Supreme Court-level races across the country increased from $5.9 million during the 1989-1990 elections to $45.6 million during 2007-2009.