Court denies public funds for Loughry campaign
The matching funds provision of a plan to publicly finance the State Supreme Court campaign is unconstitutional because it places “a substantial burden on privately financed candidates’ free speech rights,” according to a ruling last week by the West Virginia Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court also decided that Republican Allen Loughry, the only supreme court candidate hoping to receive public funds, could seek campaign contributions for his candidacy.
Loughry, an attorney who works for the Supreme Court in Charleston, is married to the former Kelly Swaim of Berkeley Springs.
“This case presents a unique set of circumstances – a publicly financed candidate has detrimentally relied on matching funds provisions that are found to be unconstitutional two months before the election,” wrote Chief Justice Menis Ketchum.
According to the ruling, State Code prohibits public finance candidates from raising private contributions. But, in fairness to Loughry, he “may now seek campaign contributions in support of his candidacy,” read the opinion.
Loughry released a statement saying he and his attorney are reviewing the ruling to decide their next step.
“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,” according to Loughry’s statement.
“The campaign financing project has never been about my campaign, but about the ability of the state to hold fair judicial elections,” Loughry said.
Loughry had filed the petition asking the State Supreme Court to force the State Election Commission to release public funds for his campaign.
He asked the court to decide whether the Election Commission is required to disburse matching funds to Supreme Court candidates participating in the public financing pilot program once a non-participating party reaches a trigger amount.
Loughry’s campaign has received $350,000 so far. The Election Commission determined earlier this summer that the trigger amount had been met and his campaign was due more than $140,000, based on the spending by other candidates. He could have received as much as $700,000.
The court ruled that the initial $350,000 disbursement was under the “constitutionally sound portion of the pilot program,” so he may keep what he has already received for his campaign.
The ruling states: “There is no constitutional problem with West Virginia providing a fixed contribution amount to publicly financed candidates. However, political speech rights are violated when West Virginia provides matching funds to publicly financed candidates based on the amount spent by privately financed candidates.”
(Most of the information in this article is from The State Journal of Charleston and is used by permission.)