In the Sunday Gazette-Mail, top officials of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition called for reforms to reduce, among other things, the influence of money on West Virginia’s judicial elections.
These include increasing public spending on judicial campaigns, Pam Nixon and Vivian Stockman explain, whose aim is to “remove conflicts of interest from our courts by giving judicial candidates the ability to run for office without taking money from parties who may later have cases before the court.”
Their organization, OVEC, joins a large number of progressive and other groups in endorsing a coalition called West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections, founded in 2002, whose website is www.wvoter-owned.org.
Coalition members, according to its website, include labor organizations, the AFL-CIO, the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
They include official voices of faith groups, such as the Catholic Conference of West Virginia, Episcopal Appalachian Ministries and the West Virginia Council of Churches.
Well-known names in environmental advocacy are coalition members, including OVEC, Coal River Mountain Watch, Trout Unlimited, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, the West Virginia Environmental Council, West Virginia Highland Conservancy, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Sierra Club.
To no surprise, social action organizations are on board with the coalition: Big Creek People in Action, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, Concerned Citizens Coalition, Direct Action Welfare Group, the League of Women Voters, North Central West Virginia Democracy for America and the Southern Appalachian Labor School.
WV Free and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care are also members.
The coalition’s mission “is to increase transparency and accountability in West Virginia elections and support reforms to strengthen democracy and ensure fairness and impartiality in our courts.”
Sounds good, right? Who could not be for strengthening democracy and fairness and impartiality in our courts? Yet I am not convinced that all the coalition members, in frankness, would genuinely agree with that mission.
Let me surmise that the financial and moral supporters of the great majority of the coalition’s members are overwhelmingly Democrat voters, or at least not Republican ones. They occupy the left side of the political spectrum. They often are called progressives.
Progressive coalitions, as with their conservative rivals, don’t exist for nothing. Advocacy for tax-funded judicial campaigns sounds neutral. But, given its left and hard-left leanings, it is reasonable to believe that West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections, in fact, seeks partisan and ideological advantages for elected offices in West Virginia. That includes for its judges.
Partisan and ideological advantages are the last things we want in our judges and in our courts. They are the very things that Citizens for Clean Elections desire to expunge from our judiciary, the supposed neutral branch of our three branches of government.
To achieve impartiality in our courts, in fact, would be mission failure for them.
In election after election, labor organizations by a wide margin spend the most money in West Virginia to influence the outcomes in legislative and court races. For decades, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates have been the top spenders and organizers for their endorsed candidates.
In election after election, big labor and its allies in the Democratic Party, trial lawyers groups and teachers unions, collectively support virtually the same judicial candidates whose views they share and would eagerly exercise if they become judges.
I presume, and so should most people, that their financial support comes with an expectation of a return on their political investment.
They are not alone. Organizations with opposing views, including business-minded groups, also spend lots of money, although a distance behind labor. I myself serve on the board of directors of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and regularly contribute to its political action committee.
In elections past, I have given contributions to judicial campaigns for Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisans because I knew the candidates and believed they would become good judges. I no longer do so, to achieve some degree of purity.
I venture that most West Virginians, if well informed, would oppose publicly funded judicial campaigns, because they do not want their taxes to support the political or personal views of politicians whose philosophies they do not share. Count me among them.
If West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections really wants to get money out of our courts, then it ought to advocate the end of the popular election of our judges. Let the governor nominate judges, and then have the West Virginia Senate consent to his choices.
In a stroke, West Virginia would eliminate money from judicial elections and rid us all of those irritating profusions of TV and radio campaign ads that always either portray their candidates as angels or their opponents as demons.