CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Both the House and Senate are looking at continuing public financing of campaigns for state Supreme Court candidates, but the issue as of Monday is whether to make it permanent or limit it to the next election of justices, in 2016.As the bill left the House, it would allow qualifying candidates to receive $300,000 in public financing for contested primary elections, and $525,000 for general elections, and would make what has been a pilot project for the 2012 election permanent (HB2805).On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended the bill to extend the pilot project only to the next Supreme Court election, in 2016, citing concerns about funding for the pilot project.The pilot project, which was used in the successful campaign of Justice Allen Loughry, was funded with a $1 million transfer from the state Purchasing Card Administration Fund. However, the state auditor's office has advised that, because of budget cuts, only $400,000 may be transferred from that fund for future elections.Under the original legislation, participating candidates received smaller base amounts, and could qualify for a series of matching funds to stay competitive with the biggest spending competitors. The state Supreme Court last year ruled that was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment rights of privately funded candidates, prompting the change in the current bill to the lump-sum payments for candidates participating in public financing.Also Monday:
* The House Judiciary Committee advanced 17-7 a bill to restore requirements that spending for billboards, phone banks and mass mailings must be reported as expenditures by organizations conducting electioneering communications (SB604).Electioneering communications are ads by groups and organizations directed at specific candidates, although they do not expressly call on voters to vote for or against the candidate, usually asking viewers to call the candidate to express concern about a particular issue.Billboards, phone banks and mass mailings had been part of the original state law, but was removed in 2010 following a U.S. District Court ruling limiting disclosure to expenditures for broadcast and print ads only. That ruling was overturned last year by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, objected to the bill, calling it a "back-door" way to get names of contributors to various organizations."If you happen to donate to West Virginians for Life in 2013, your name shows up on this list," he said. "This is, in my mind, a back-door way to get to the donors to these organizations."* The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a resolution (SR24) urging Congress to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, which concluded that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals, and overturned laws setting limits on corporate spending for independent expenditures in election campaigns.Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.