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Justice Loughry: Public Financing Offers An Alternative To Cynicism

PHOTO: State Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry won his seat using public financing, much to the surprise of political observers. Photo courtesy of the state Supreme Court.
PHOTO: State Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry won his seat using public financing, much to the surprise of political observers. Photo courtesy of the state Supreme Court.
April 4, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As lawmakers consider two bills making public financing for State Supreme Court elections permanent, the justice elected under the pilot program says it worked because it gave people a chance to feel good about politics for a change. Justice Allen Loughry accepted public financing for his campaign last year and won, astounding many seasoned political observers.

The justice said he cannot endorse legislation, but he added that it is vital that people get a chance not to feel cynical about judicial elections.

"You should not be able to buy a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court like you go into a convenience store and buy a candy bar off the shelf," Loughry said.

When he accepted public financing, Loughry also accepted strict limits on how much he could spend. That meant he faced opponents with a lot more money, which caused most observers to dismiss his chances. Loughry noted one thing his election proved: You do not have to match your opponents dollar for dollar.

"We were still able to reach average West Virginians," he said, "and part of that was because we ran a very positive campaign."

To qualify for public financing, Loughry had to raise hundreds of small donations from registered voters across the state's congressional districts. He said that was hard to do, but stressed that it should be hard, to make sure only candidates with a real shot at being elected get a chance at public money.

"I don't want to see that change," he said. "You have to be able to show that enough average West Virginia voters would support your campaign. Only at that point should you qualify for that funding."

House Bill 2805 would make the pilot program permanent. It has passed the house and is now awaiting action in the senate. HB 2805 and its companion bill in the senate, SB 413, are available at http://www.legis.state.wv.us.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV