CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More and more these days, I'm beginning to believe that I live in "upside-down" world, the Bo-Zone Layer (thank you Far Side cartoons) or some other convoluted universe. And West Virginia may just be the center.
I'm trying to wrap my mind around the fact that Michael Callaghan, former chairman of the Democratic Party and former Director of the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection, is suing Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (Democrat) and the state Election Commission in federal court, claiming that the matching funds provision of the Supreme Court's public campaign financing pilot program is unconstitutional.
Matching or "rescue" funds allow a publicly funded candidate to receive additional funding for his/her campaign once a participating candidate passes a spending threshold or is targeted by an independent campaign.
Callaghan's reasoning? He says since he supported both Democratic candidates (Tish Chafin and Robin Davis) for office that he filed this case to keep West Virginia taxpayers from financing a candidate he opposed. He also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that matching funds provisions are an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment rights of candidates and contributors.
His arguments are based on the Supreme Court's 2011 ruling that said Arizona's public financing system substantially burdened the free speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups despite evidence to the contrary.
Regarding the Arizona Free Enterprise ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the triggered matching fund provisions of Arizona's public financing system substantially burdens free speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups without fulfilling a compelling government interest. In an amicus brief we signed on to in a similar case in Wisconsin, one argument stated that judges, unlike other elected officials, have a duty, under the Constitution's 14th Amendment, to be impartial. Therefore, reforms to prevent the appearance of courtroom bias represent a compelling government interest.
Of course, the court's ruling in Arizona Free Enterprise said that the anti-corruption interest wasn't furthered because candidates couldn't be corrupted by their own money (which is I guess someone could argue in this case since Davis and Chafin are largely self-financed.) However, the ruling also said that independent expenditures are not corrupting because they aren't coordinated with the candidate. Please! Sadly, this is the bizarro world we live in.
My initial reaction to Callaghan's lawsuit: "You, too, Democrats?" For years, the effort to enact a bill for public financing of elections in West Virginia has largely been impeded by Republicans in the Legislature, though fortunately, some in that party saw the benefits of "voter-owned" elections.