- Associated Press - Saturday, February 27, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A Kanawha County judge has heard arguments in a case challenging the $500,000 of public campaign finance money state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin was awarded for his re-election bid.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports (https://bit.ly/1UqUXp0) the State Election Commission unanimously approved public financing for the Benjamin campaign earlier this month over the objections of Beth Walker, who is running against the incumbent. Walker’s campaign appealed the ruling and is asking Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman to overturn it.

In court on Friday, Walker’s attorney argued Benjamin’s campaign missed deadlines for filing the application for certification and a report of contributions. Those are both issues the SEC commissioners ruled were not valid.

In order to qualify for public financing, a candidate must raise at least $35,000 from at least 500 contributors, with maximum contributions of $100.

Walker, a Morgantown attorney, challenged every contributor to the Benjamin campaign, but the SEC ruled Benjamin met the requirements. The SEC also determined that a glitch in the electronic reporting system made it impossible for Benjamin’s campaign to electronically file a financial report. The campaign was instead allowed to file a paper copy of the form.

Walker attorney Thomas Ryan said that form was filed late.

“We can’t give Justice Benjamin an A for effort, he has to follow the rules,” Ryan told the judge.

The Walker campaign has also challenged the public campaign financing for a second Supreme Court candidate, Beckley lawyer Bill Wooton, claiming Wooton filed his application a day late.

Benjamin was elected in 2004, ousting incumbent justice Warren McGraw. McGraw’s brother, Darrell McGraw, a former state Attorney General and former justice, is also running for Benjamin’s seat this year, as is Clay lawyer Wayne King.

Walker is asking Kaufman to overturn the SEC’s decision certifying Benjamin’s qualification for public campaign financing and order Benjamin to return the money he received.

Kaufman said he would rule within several days. The Supreme Court election takes place on May 10.

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