CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rules to convert the state Supreme Court public campaign financing pilot project into a permanent funding option for candidates for the high court were approved by the State Elections Commission Thursday."I think this is an innovative mechanism to encourage participation, and to bring more credibility to our courts," commission Chairman Robert Rupp said of the rules tentatively approved Thursday.In 2010, the Legislature authorized a one-time pilot project for public financing of Supreme Court candidates, in the 2012 election. The only candidate who opted for the public financing option, Allen Loughry, was elected to one of two open seats on the high court.During the 2013 regular session, the Legislature made the public financing option permanent, beginning with the next scheduled Supreme Court elections in 2016.On Thursday, the commission modified the old rules, with a key change being the removal of matching fund provisions that the state Supreme Court ruled in 2012 was unconstitutional."We've revised it to be a general law, rather than specific to the pilot project," Rupp said of the new rules.Under the pilot project, it was intended that participating candidates would receive an initial grant of $350,000 in the general election, and would be eligible for up to an additional $350,000 of funds to match spending by privately funded candidates.Under the new law, and rules approved Thursday, candidates will get lump-sum payments of $50,000 in uncontested primary elections, $300,000 in contested primaries, and $525,000 in general elections -- assuming sufficient public campaign financing funds are available.The public campaign-financing fund contains $1.1 million, and is to receive a one-time payment of $400,000 prior to July 1, 2015.
Tim Leach, counsel for the Secretary of State's Office, said that amount should be sufficient to cover three primary candidates and one general election candidate.If the funds are not sufficient, candidates are to receive pro-rated shares, and would be able to raise campaign contributions to reach the funding thresholds.The rule changes will be open for public comment for 30 days, and then will be submitted to the legislative Rule-Making Review Committee for final approval by the Legislature.Also Thursday, the commission:* Authorized Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to tap into $7,274 in unspent funds in the commission's account to purchase 5,000 pocket-size copies of the state constitution.Tennant said that with increased interest in state history because of the sesquicentennial, the office has exhausted its supply of 3,000 constitutions, ordered in 2009.
"There's obviously more interest in state history this year," said Tennant, who said the 5,000 booklets, which bear her name, should be available in time for the state's 150th birthday celebration June 20.Any unspent 2012-13 funds remaining in the commission's account will be "swept" into the state general revenue fund on June 30.* Re-elected Rupp to a two-year term as chairman by acclamation.Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.