Gavel Grab

JAS Applauds Action to Extend Public Financing in West Virginia

West Virginia’s state Senate voted to make permanent the public financing of state Supreme Court candidates, following earlier action in the House (see Gavel Grab), and Justice at Stake applauded the legislature’s action.

The Senate voted 30-4 to send the legislation to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his signature, the Associated Press reported.

Justice at Stake said a pilot public financing program for Supreme Court candidates has succeeded in West Virginia.

“In just a few short years, West Virginia’s public financing program has already helped insulate courts from special interest influence and promote fair and impartial justice,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement.

“Public financing helps shield courts from special-interest influence. Candidates accept public financing by agreeing not to seek money from deep-pocketed interests. We applaud the legislature for taking the necessary steps to make this program permanent and hope Governor Tomblin will sign the bill into law.”

JAS backed the work of West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections, a statewide coalition, to win passage of the public financing pilot program in 2010 and to advocate on behalf of making the program permanent. Read more

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Pared-Back Public Financing Plan Before West Virginia Senate

A state Senate committee pared back a House-passed bill to make permanent a public financing program for West Virginia Supreme Court candidates. The revised version would extend the program through 2016, when the next Supreme Court elections are held.

The Senate Judiciary Committee amended the legislation after concerns were expressed about adequate funding for the program, the Associated Press reported.

To learn more about the legislation, see Gavel Grab. The pilot public financing program for judicial elections was adopted after West Virginia became a poster child for campaign finance reform advocates, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Caperton v. Massey.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled then that a West Virginia Supreme Court justice could not participate in a case involving a coal company whose CEO had spent $3 million to help elect him. The high court said the “probability of bias” violated an opposing litigant’s right to a fair, impartial hearing.

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W.Va. House Approves Public Financing for Court Candidates

A bill to establish permanent public financing of West Virginia Supreme Court elections won passage in the House of Delegates by a 70-29 vote, and it was sent to the state Senate.

Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry was the only candidate last year to take advantage of a pilot public financing program, an Associated Press article noted, and he won election.

Del. Tim Manchin, a Democrat, mentioned Justice Loughry’s victory despite Democratic candidates outspending him, and added about public financing, “It is a good way to get special interest money out of elections and to maintain and improve the integrity of our court.”

Judging the pilot a failure, however, was Republican House Minority Whip Daryl Cowles, who said the GOP nominee won “not necessarily because of this but in spite of this program.”

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WV Commission: Public Funding Plan Should be Permanent

West Virginia should make permanent a pilot public financing program for state Supreme Court elections, the State Election Commission recently agreed.

On Election Day, the lone candidate for the Supreme Court to seek and receive public financing in the contest successfully won election. Republican Allen Loughry’s path to the high court was cited by State Election Commission members, according to an Associated Press article. Loughry’s campaign received almost $400,000 in funding through the pilot program.

“I think it was a good program and I think it was successful, as far as it went,” Commissioner Gary Collias said.

West Virginia’s pilot public financing program was crafted to apply only to state Supreme Court campaigns and to help reduce the influence of special interest spending on the courts.

In September, the state Supreme Court ruled that Loughry could not be awarded  matching, or “rescue” funds under that program (see Gavel Grab).

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Loughry Wins Seat in West Virginia Supreme Court Race

West Virginia has gained one new Supreme Court Justice and retained another. Allen Loughry and incumbent Justice Robin Davis defeated former West Virginia State Bar President Letitia Chafin and Circuit Judge John Yoder in the race for seats on the state Supreme Court, according to a Charleston Gazette article.

As the only candidate in the race to participate in West Virginia’s public financing program, Loughry gained media attention earlier this year when the state Elections Commission found that recent Supreme Court decisions declared the state’s public financing program unconstitutional and refused to release additional public funds to Loughry mid-campaign (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Candidate Spending in WV Court Election Nears $3.5 Million

Four candidates campaigning for election to the West Virginia Supreme Court have spent a combined total of close to $3.5 million so far, according to an Associated Press article that cites Justice at Stake.

Overall candidate spending has surpassed the $3.1 million mark reached in 2008, when candidates likewise were competing for two seats on the state’s highest court.

Non-candidate groups have not reported spending yet on the West Virginia race, according to the article, which cited a joint analysis by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice on heavy outside group spending for TV ads in numerous other judicial election states.

Political parties and outside groups have funded almost 70 percent of about $8.9 million spent on TV ads in judicial elections since Sept. 1, the review said. The Brennan Center is a JAS partner group.

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Judicial Races, Reform Talk Grab Attention in States

With judicial elections only three weeks away in some states, races for state supreme courts are getting stepped-up news media attention. In a few states, reform of judicial elections or judicial recusal also is in the spotlight.

In West Virginia, where four candidates are running for two seats on the state’s highest court, Republican Circuit Judge John Yoder supports nonpartisan judicial elections, and Democrat Tish Chafin has proposed changing the process for disqualifying a judge in event of a potential conflict of interest. An Associated Press article was headlined, “W. Va. high court hopefuls mindful of critics.”

In Ohio, a Toledo Blade article reported on incumbent Justice Robert Cupp’s re-election bid and challenger William O’Neill’s stated concerns about the way judicial elections are funded.  There were these reports from other judicial election states:

MINNESOTA: A Pioneer Press editorial about three contested races was headlined, “Minnesota Supreme Court candidates deserve voters’ attention.”

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West Virginia Court Candidates Favor Non-Partisan Races

Three of four candidates seeking election to two seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court said they support non-partisan judicial elections.

Democratic candidate Tish Chafin and Republicans Allen Loughry and John Yoder discussed their views at a forum sponsored by the South Charleston Chamber of Commerce, according to a State Journal article. The fourth candidate, incumbent Justice Robin Jean Davis, a Democrat, did not attend the forum.

“I think that it’s absolutely, entirely appropriate for you to expect political responses from your governors and from your legislators,” Loughry said. “The judiciary should be the nonpolitical branch of government.”

Another reform discussed at the forum involves judicial recusal. Chafin said Caperton v. Massey, a judicial election spending case from West Virginia that resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, gave the state a “black eye.” You can learn more about the candidates’ views on recusal reform from Gavel Grab.

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No Appeal Seen in West Virginia Public Financing Case

West Virginia’s State Elections Commission will not appeal a ruling by the state Supreme Court that a judicial candidate cannot get matching, or “rescue” funds under the state’s public financing program for high court elections.

The high court recently ordered that Allen Loughry, a Republican candidate for the state Supreme Court, could not be awarded the matching funds (see Gavel Grab).

“West Virginia’s public financing program was crafted to protect a compelling state interest: keeping courts fair, impartial and free from special-interest influence,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement at the time. He called the ruling “deeply disappointing, and [it] means judges will continue dialing for dollars from major campaign spenders.”

Loughry said he wished the Elections Commission had decided to appeal, according to a West Virginia Record article. “[A]n appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would provide West Virginia and any other states considering public financing for judicial races final guidance on what is constitutional and what isn’t,” he said. The candidate is not appealing the ruling himself.

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Editorial: Judicial Campaign Reform ‘Setback’ in West Virginia

A court ruling that denied public matching funds to a candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court constituted “a serious setback for judicial campaign reform,” a New York Times editorial said.

The state Supreme Court denied release of matching or “rescue” funds to Republican candidate Allen Loughry in a decision that cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down a similar provision in an Arizona statute (see Gavel Grab).

West Virginia’s pilot public financing program was crafted to apply only to state Supreme Court campaigns and to help reduce the influence of special interest spending on the courts. Arizona’s statute did not address judicial elections. The Times editorial pointed out the difference and said an exception was warranted in West Virginia for judicial elections, “which raise special concerns for preserving the appearance and reality of fair decision-making by elected judges”:

“The West Virginia court should have recognized a judicial election exception to reach a different result. Instead, it applied the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded view that providing public funds to underfinanced candidates based on an opponent’s spending level impedes the free speech of the better-financed candidate. Read more

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