West Virginia Supreme Court denies public campaign financing request

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September 14, 2012

West Virginia

By Phil Sletten

CHARLESTON, West Virginia: A judicial candidate seeking public funding for his political campaign has been denied access to additional public funds in response to increased spending by one of his opponents. West Virginia Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry requested more funds under a West Virginia pilot program that allocates "rescue funds" to judicial candidates who are being outspent in a political race. Candidates eligible for these funds have to be in the public campaign financing program already, and were eligible for increases in government aid if their privately-funded opponents achieved certain levels of campaign spending. However, the State Supreme Court cited a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding Arizona's public funding laws and denied Loughry's request, ending this part of the program.[1]

Loughry made the request for more funds after incumbent Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis, who is running for re-election to the State Supreme Court this cycle and faces Loughry in the election, spent approximately $494,500 through the May primary election.[1] This spending level triggered more public funding from a pilot program designed to bolster public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.[2] The State Election Commission reached a deadlock, however, on whether to release an additional $144,500 in "rescue" funds to Loughry.[3]

The State Supreme Court then settled the issue by citing a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against a similar Arizona law that described these sorts of rescue funds as infringing on free speech. The Arizona case did not deal with judicial nominees, but the West Virginia Supreme Court determined that the same threats to freedom of speech existed in judicial elections.[2]

"While we are sympathetic to Petitioner Loughry's position and agree with his assertion that judicial elections raise a number of compelling interests, we are bound to apply the [U.S.] Supreme Court's interpretation of the United States Constitution," the unanimous court opinion stated.[2]

Due to the nature of this case, Justice Davis, who is one of Loughry's electoral opponents, recused herself. Justices Brent Benjamin and Margaret Workman also recused themselves. Loughry had been a Supreme Court law clerk prior to running for a seat on the court. Circuit court Judges John Marks, Christopher C. Wilkes, and James Mazzone heard the case in the absence of the recused members.[3]

Although Loughry's request for additional state funding was denied, the court permitted him to use the public money that he was already given for campaign work and allowed him to continue fundraising for his campaign.[2]

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