CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's first publicly financed candidate is running in this year's Supreme Court race, and Republican Allen Loughry is the only one among eight candidates to seek funding through a new pilot project.
First, however, his campaign had to attract at least 500 donations of between $1 and $100 from throughout the state to qualify. These smaller-dollar contributions also had to total at least $35,000.
A longtime law clerk at the court, Loughry exceeded that minimum by a January deadline and said nearly 700 West Virginia voters contributed. As judicial candidates cannot seek funds directly, Loughry credits the more than 50 people on his campaign's finance committee with helping to satisfy the pilot project's requirement that only viable candidates qualify.
"It was enormously difficult, but it should be enormously difficult," Loughry said Wednesday.
Two seats on the five-member court are on the ballot this year, and will go to the top two vote-getters. Loughry and Circuit Judge John Yoder are the only Republicans running, and so are assured of their party's nomination in the May 8 primary. As a result, the program is providing limited funding for now. It offers $50,000 to uncontested primary candidates, minus what they raised to qualify.
Loughry reported a $62,050 campaign balance in his initial campaign finance report, after spending just under $6,000 as of March 30. He'll receive another $350,000 for the general election phase shortly after the primary.
Loughry also hopes for additional funding, to keep pace if privately funded opponents or independent groups outspend his campaign. But a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a matching funding provision in Arizona's public financing law. West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has since concluded that the decision also voids this part of the pilot project.
Loughry disagrees. He cites an earlier ruling by the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that upheld North Carolina's public financing program for judicial races, which helped inspire the West Virginia pilot project.
"It is my opinion that the law is still valid," Loughry said. "A law is presumed valid until it is challenged. No one has challenged this law."
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is West Virginia's elections chief, and sought the attorney general's legal advice following the Arizona decision. Loughry said he's asked Tennant's office to apply the matching funding provision if triggered.
"I'm going to ask them one more time to reconsider their position," Loughry said. He added that if he is turned down, "I or someone else will have to seek a remedy through the courts."
Tennant intends to follow McGraw's legal opinion, and the court system can resolve any resulting disagreements, spokesman Jake Glance said Wednesday.
The Legislature created the pilot project amid concerns about the perceived influence of campaign cash on judicial elections. Lawmakers at the time noted that fundraising by Supreme Court candidates had more than doubled, from $1.4 million to $3.3 million, between 2000 and 2008.