West Virginia high court finds public campaign financing law unconstitutional
West Virginia high court finds public campaign financing law unconstitutional
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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia [official website] on Friday struck down [opinion] a new West Virginia law [WV Code §3-12-11(e) text] that provides public financing for candidates in state Supreme Court elections. The case was brought directly to the court by a writ of mandamus by Allen Loughry, a Republican candidate seeking to use the funds who has been an advocate for campaign finance reform in the past. The court referenced a 2011 US Supreme Court [official website] decision finding a similar campaign finance law from Arizona unconstitutional [JURIST report] on Free Speech grounds. Under both the Arizona and West Virginia laws a publicly financed candidate would receive governmental matching funds after certain thresholds are met for each dollar a private candidate spends. The West Virginia court held:

[P]rivately financed candidates are faced with a choice: spend their campaign funds over a set limit to get out their political message, thereby generating matching government funds for their publicly financed opponent or refrain from spending over a set amount to prevent the government from providing matching funds to their opponent. The US Supreme Court … determined that “Arizona’s matching funds scheme substantially burdens protected political speech without serving a compelling state interest and therefore violates the First Amendment.”

The opinion was unanimous, but three of the five sitting justices recused themselves from the proceedings and were replaced by three judges sitting in temporary assignment. The law had been designed [West Virginia Record report], in part, to mitigate the influence of outside money in state elections.

Campaign finance laws have been a contentious issue recently. Last week the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website], sitting en banc, ruled [JURIST report] that Minnesota’s disclosure requirement law for political contributions is unconstitutional. In June the US Supreme Court struck down a Montana campaign finance law that restricted the amount of money corporations can spend on campaigns, holding that Citizens United [JURIST reports] invalidated the Montana law. That decision, American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] reversed a decision by the Montana Supreme Court upholding the law [JURIST report]. Also in June the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit cited Citizens United and ruled [JURIST report] that a district court erred in holding that corporations can contribute directly to political campaigns. In February the Supreme Court blocked enforcement [JURIST report] of the Montana Supreme Court ruling.