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Elections panel won't appeal public financing decision

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As expected, the state Elections Commission voted Tuesday not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a state Supreme Court decision blocking payment of matching funds in a public campaign financing pilot project.

Citing U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the state court ruled Sept. 7 that payments of "rescue" funds to Allen Loughry, the only candidate in the 2012 Supreme Court race participating in the public financing project, would violate the free speech rights of the privately financed opponents in the race for two seats on the court.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant made the motion, after the commission met briefly in executive session to be briefed on its legal options.

"I think it's important that we have a pilot project like this, so we can test public financing in the state of West Virginia," Tennant said afterward.

SEC Chairman Robert Rupp applauded the commission for joining a motion by Loughry seeking a court order to release some $140,000 of matching funds due him under the state pilot project.

"We allowed the law to be settled, not by the attorney general, but by a court decision," Rupp said, referring to an earlier advisory opinion from the attorney general's office contending that the matching fund provision was unconstitutional, based on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Rupp said it would have been pointless to appeal the state court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court under the circumstances.

In a statement, Loughry -- who previously decided not to appeal the state court ruling -- said he was disappointed that the SEC didn't independently appeal the decision.

"I would have hoped that the state Elections Commission would have decided to appeal the public financing case to the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. "Obviously an appeal wouldn't impact my campaign since a decision would most likely come after the Nov. 6 election.

"However, an 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."

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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