It will be up to the Legislature to decide if public financing will again be an option for state Supreme Court candidates in 2016.
The State Election Commission has recommended the continuation of the pilot program which was used, for the first time, during the 2012 election cycle. It was created to address the potential for bias on the part of judges based on campaign contributors who could later be involved in cases.
West Virginia Wesleyan Political Science Professor Robert Rupp, a member of the State Election Commission, says he thinks the program makes sense.
“In judicial races, I think a case can be made that the court is different from the Legislature,” Rupp said.
Only one candidate, Republican Allen Loughry, decided to take the public financing option in 2012.
Even though the part of the pilot program dealing with additional money triggers was ruled unconstitutional, he won one of two open seats on the state Supreme Court with the help of $363,000 in public money.
To qualify for it he had to obtain at least 500 contributions of no more than $100 each which, together, totaled at least $35,000, but not more than $50,000. The contributions had to come from West Virginia registered voters with at least 10% of all of the contributors residing in each of the three Congressional districts.
In all, campaign finance filings with the Secretary of State’s Office show Justice Loughry spent $452,000 on his Supreme Court campaign. Berkeley County Circuit Judge John Yoder, also a Republican, spent $37,000.
The two Democrat candidates had the largest campaign funds. Justice Robin Davis recorded $1.28 million, much of that her own money. Democrat Tish Chafin also personally financed much of her $1.5 million campaign spending fund.
Rupp says there’s a lesson there. “Spending the most money doesn’t carry a guaranteed victory, but it certainly makes victory more likely,” he said.
The continuation of the pilot program could come up during the 60 Regular Legislative Session. It begins Wednesday at the State Capitol.