Supreme Court rejects candidate’s plea for public campaign funds
Read the report: http://www.courtswv.gov/supreme-court/docs/fall2012/12-0899.pdf CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Supreme Court justices on Friday unanimously denied a request from a high-court candidate for more than $140,000 in public matching campaign funds. The justices cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared public campaign financing matching funds to be an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech rights of privately funded candidates.
Allen Loughry, a Republican running for a Supreme Court seat, sought the release of the funds under a state Supreme Court public campaign financing pilot project.
The West Virginia matching fund provision places a "substantial burden on the unfettered political speech of the privately financed candidates" and could not withstand a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, based on its rulings in two other cases, state Supreme Court justices said in their ruling denying Loughry's motion.
"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 court ruled in an opinion drafted by Chief Justice Menis Ketchum.
The state Supreme Court opinion cited the case Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that public financing of candidates wasn't fair to those candidates who privately finance their campaigns. The state opinion also mentioned the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court again ruled 5-4 that limits on political spending by corporations and unions are unconstitutional.
Although justices denied Loughry's request for an order releasing the matching funds, they ruled that he is now free to raise campaign funds without having to forfeit $400,000 he has received to date in initial public campaign financing payments.
"This case presents a unique set of circumstances -- a publicly financed candidate has detrimentally relied on matching fund provisions that are found to be unconstitutional two months before the election," the ruling stated.
Justices said their decision to let Loughry raise private campaign funds without losing the public campaign funds he's already received is "a matter of fundamental fairness."
The ruling acknowledged Loughry's argument that the pilot project's goal of strengthening the public's confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary is a compelling state interest, but not at the cost of burdening the First Amendment rights of the other candidates in the race.
During oral arguments Tuesday, Loughry's attorney, Alan Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice, had argued that while the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned matching fund provisions in legislative and executive branch elections as being unconstitutional, the court has recognized there is a compelling interest to assure fair and impartial judicial elections.
While recognizing that as a laudable goal, the court ruled that the current public financing pilot project could not achieve its intended goal since only one of the four candidates on the ballot, Loughry, is using public financing.
"The matching funds do not eliminate the appearance that the three candidates who accept campaign contributions may be biased or partial toward their contributors," the court ruled.
"The government matching funds serve no other purpose than "leveling the playing field" between one publicly funded candidate and the three privately financed candidates," the ruling stated.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Loughry said he is evaluating his options going forward, and applauded the court for its "careful consideration" of the issue.
"While it is not the resolution I had hoped for, I am encouraged that the high court recognized the unique circumstances of this case, and is allowing me to begin immediately raising money for my campaign," Loughry said. "The campaign financing project has never been about my campaign, but about the ability of the state to hold fair judicial elections."
He said he strongly believes he still can win election to one of the two seats on the high court in November. Incumbent Justice Robin Davis and Charleston lawyer Letitia Neese Chafin, both Democrats, and Republican Circuit Judge John Yoder of Jefferson County also are running.
Davis and fellow Justices Margaret Workman and Brent Benjamin recused themselves from the case. They were replaced by Circuit Judges Christopher Wilkes of Berkeley County, James Mazzone of Ohio County and John Marks of Harrison County, who joined Ketchum and Justice Thomas McHugh in the unanimous decision.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.