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Elections panel votes to defend public campaign financing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In an emergency meeting Tuesday, the state Elections Commission unanimously voted to defend the constitutionality of a Supreme Court campaign public financing pilot project.

"The idea is the commission, by unanimous vote, will defend this law," commission Chairman Robert Rupp said following the meeting.

During a brief public meeting following a lengthy executive session, Rupp called for the motion, stating, "I ask that the Election Commission actively defend the constitutionality of the matching-funds law passed by the Legislature, and defend it both in the state and federal courts."

That vote came one day after state Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry, a Republican, petitioned the high court to order the commission to release a $144,471 matching payment he is eligible to receive as part of a "rescue" provision in the state law.

Loughry, a Supreme Court clerk and the only participant in the public campaign financing project, was initially awarded $350,000 for the general election campaign, and under the law, is eligible to draw down an additional $400,000 to match spending by opponents in the general election.

On July 17, the Elections Commission deadlocked in a 2-2 tie on a motion to award a $144,471 rescue payment to Loughry, to match the $494,471 that incumbent Justice Robin Davis, a Democrat, reported spending through June 30 for the general election.

That deadlock was prompted by concerns over a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a matching-funds provision in an Arizona public campaign financing law as a violation of the free-speech rights of the other candidates.

Following that vote, Charleston attorney Anthony Majestro filed suit in U.S. District Court to have the matching-funds provision in the West Virginia law declared unconstitutional. Majestro is campaign attorney for Supreme Court candidate Tish Chafin, a Democrat.

In a statement released Tuesday, Loughry applauded the commission's action.

"I want to thank the State Election Commission members for their unanimous 4-0 vote today to defend the constitutionality of the pilot program law," Loughry stated. "Given their unanimous vote in support of this law, I am asking the commission to immediately authorize the release of the funds to my campaign."

He added, "The intent of the law was to make judicial elections fair, and to eliminate the perception that Supreme Court seats are being bought by attorneys who practice before the court or by individuals or groups who spend millions of dollars to elect justices."

Loughry is being represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and Huntington attorney Marc Williams.

The Elections Commission also unanimously approved a motion asking that their attorney act to expedite the matter before the Supreme Court.

It was not immediately clear whether justices of the court would need to recuse themselves in the case. Besides Davis' status as an opposing candidate, Loughry has clerked for Justice Margaret Workman.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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