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Beckley lawyer to receive public financing in Supreme Court race

State Election Commissioners Friday certified that Beckley lawyer and former legislator Bill Wooton has qualified for public campaign financing for the 2016 state Supreme Court race — over objections from challenger Beth Walker.

That certification means Wooton will receive $525,000 of public financing for his campaign for the May 10 nonpartisan election — minus the funds he raised to qualify.

The Walker campaign contended that Wooton had filed his application for certification with the SEC a day after a Feb. 2 deadline.

However, Charleston lawyer Pat Maroney argued the requirement to submit the application within two business days after the qualifying contribution period ends is in the legislative rule, but not in the state law creating public financing — and commissioners agreed with his assertion that the law takes precedence.

Representatives of the Walker campaign, Joe Reidy and Kent Gates, indicated that Walker will appeal the decision to circuit court, and asked that the commission not release the funds to the Wooton campaign pending that appeal.

However, commissioners concurred with Maroney, who noted, “The duty of this commission is to report to the (state) auditor that Mr. Wooton has been certified, and that should occur immediately.”

Commissioners concluded that the Wooton campaign had met all qualifying requirements for public financing, including having more than 500 contributions of no more than $100 each (the secretary of state’s office verified at least 754 contributors), and that he had raised a total of $46,952, exceeding the minimum $35,000 requirement.

Walker is also challenging certification for the other candidate seeking public financing, Justice Brent Benjamin.

In Benjamin’s case, the Walker campaign is challenging more than 350 individual contributions, alleging a variety of errors or omissions that would disqualify them from counting as qualifying contributions.

Commissioners will hear those objections on Wednesday, after giving the Benjamin campaign additional time to file documentation on the contributions.

Benjamin’s campaign had been unable to file those documents electronically, because of a quirk in the secretary of state’s computer system. Benjamin had initially filed a pre-candidacy as a traditional candidate, and later decided to pursue the public campaign financing option, and the computer system is not programmed to handle that scenario.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304 348-1220, or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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