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Unmask the donors, please

July 15, 2003

Should out-of-state businesses get involved in West Virginia's judicial elections? Not in a perfect world, but it will undoubtedly happen next year and voters will have to decide whether they're well-served by Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw.

McGraw is being targeted for defeat by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - and its West Virginia affiliate - for decisions those groups feel are anti-business and which they feel damage the state's economy.

McGraw is in one of 10 judicial races the U.S. Chamber will get involved in this year, according to the July 21 edition of Forbes Magazine, which reports that since 2000, the campaign has won 21 of 24 targeted races since 2000.

Why is the chamber so hot to knock McGraw off the high court bench?

The Forbes article says that during a five-year stretch, McGraw voted with the court majority in upholding workers' compensation appeals 88 percent of the time.

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Forbes also said the chamber was upset by a 1999 case in which McGraw ruled that workers could sue their employers if they feared a future accident - a ruling which has come to be known as the "no proof-no problem" rule.

In a perfect world, the citizens of West Virginia alone would settle the matter of judicial elections, but no laws prevent outside agencies from getting involved, so McGraw and others like him will have to deal with it.

One thing all parties should insist on is that contributions to any political effort should be clearly labeled as to their source.

Forbes notes that in Mississippi, the U.S. Chamber defeated State Supreme Court Justice C.P. McRae by sending $1 million through a group known as Mississippians for Economic Progress.

If the chamber and other groups have a case to make in these elections, let them make it under their own names. Voters should be suspicious any time donors seek to obscure their identities.

There are real issues facing West Virginia voters in this race, but trying to figure out who's backing which candidate shouldn't be one of them.

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