Deadlocked vote halts financing for Supreme Court candidate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On a 2-2 deadlocked vote Tuesday, the state Elections Commission failed to approve a $144,471 payment of additional public campaign financing funds to Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry.Afterward, Loughry - the only candidate participating in the public financing pilot project this election -- accused the four-member panel of failing to follow state law, and indicated he will pursue legal action."The state Election Commission, as a body, is in violation of the West Virginia law," Loughry said after Tuesday's emergency meeting."What happens next will become apparent very soon," he said when asked whether he will seek a court order mandating that the commission release the supplemental campaign funds."Ironically, this law was enacted to address the appearance of corruption in our judiciary, and yet out state Elections Commission refused to follow a valid and non-challenged law," he said.The Supreme Court candidates' public campaign financing pilot project stemmed from recommendations of a judicial reform panel appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin, and was proposed as a way to reduce the appearance of impropriety from having lawyers contribute to judicial candidates' campaigns.In March, Loughry's campaign received $350,000 of public financing for the general election, and under the law, is eligible to receive up to $400,000 in supplemental funds to match campaign spending by opponents in the November election.At an emergency meeting Tuesday, the commission voted 4-0 that Justice Robin Davis had triggered the first threshold for supplemental, or "rescue" funds, with a financial disclosure showing that her campaign had spent $494,471 between May 9 and June 30.However, the committee deadlocked on whether to authorize the additional $144,471 supplemental payment to Loughry's campaign over concerns regarding a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last fall that overturned a public financing law in Arizona as unconstitutional.
Commissioner Robert Rupp moved to authorize the payment, contending the commission is obligated to follow state law."If this goes to court, I'd rather be in the position of defending a West Virginia statute, than on the other side," he said.Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, participating via teleconference, seconded the motion, noting, "There are many statutes in which we execute the law, and defend what the West Virginia Legislature has put into place."However, Charleston lawyer Gary Collias was outspokenly opposed to the motion. He argued that between the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and a state attorney general's opinion issued in February regarding its impact on the West Virginia law, he believes the public financing pilot project is not constitutional."I can't in good conscience vote to disperse public money based on a law I think is invalid," he said, also via teleconference.Ultimately, a vote on approving the supplemental payment was rejected on a 2-2 deadlock, with commissioner Bill Renzelli - who did not comment on the issue before the vote - joining Collias in voting no.
The commission, which by law is a five-member panel, currently has one unfilled vacancy, creating the tie vote.Loughry, a lawyer for the state Supreme Court and author, noted that the Arizona public financing law that was struck down applied to executive and legislative branch elections, and said he believes the state's judicial election pilot project will withstand a constitutional challenge."This legislation, which is unchallenged, says it is mandatory, that once these trigger points are reached, the state Elections Commission shall release these funds," said Loughry, one of two Republicans running for the Supreme Court.Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.
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