By ALLEN LOUGHRY
CHARLESTON — While I usually do not read fiction, I made an exception to read Scott Blass’ opinion piece last week regarding West Virginia’s judicial campaign public financing pilot program.
Mr. Blass, I am sure, adheres to the old adage, “don’t let a few facts get in the way of a good story.”
Two years ago, the West Virginia Legislature established a pilot program for this year’s state Supreme Court election. The Legislature was concerned about the large amounts of money being spent on judicial races and the perception that Supreme Court seats were being bought by the highest bidder. Under the program, candidates who qualify would be given an initial amount of money to run their campaigns. In addition, supplemental funds would be provided to qualified candidates if their opposition hit certain spending limits.
Mr. Blass contends that the pilot project is “unconstitutional” and that I knew it was unconstitutional when I applied for the funding in January. He also contends that my response to a lawsuit filed by one of my opponent’s campaign attorneys is “untimely.”
Both are false.
Let’s be clear. Mr. Blass and his organization — the West Virginia Trial Lawyers — support my opponent Tish Chafin. He is certainly welcome to his opinions, but Mr. Blass is not welcome to rewrite facts just to support his conclusion or his candidate.
Two years ago, the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association strongly supported the public financing pilot project. Why? The main reason was the defeat of their Supreme Court candidate years earlier when millions of dollars were dumped into the race by special interest groups that affected the outcome. But, this year it is different.
Their candidate is well funded and they are doing whatever they can to ensure that she is elected, even if it means killing the pilot project and attacking me personally.
As the only candidate who qualified for the program, I received the initial lump sum payment in June. In question is whether or not the State Election Commission should pay the supplemental funds as the law also directs.
Mr. Blass emphatically states that I opted to participate in the program with full knowledge that the supplemental funds would not be implemented. This is false.
If that is the case, then why did Mr. Blass’ vice-president (and my opponent’s campaign lawyer) file a suit in federal court attempting to have a provision of the law declared unconstitutional? Certainly, the Secretary of State and State Election Commission don’t agree with him as they have announced that they believe in West Virginia’s law and they will vigorously defend it in court.
I’ll tell you why. It’s politics and the kind of politics that continues to give West Virginia a black eye. I wrote a book five years ago that detailed the history of political corruption in West Virginia. There is one common thread throughout all corruption and that is money. Groups give lots of money to campaigns to gain access and control.
While Mr. Blass, his organization, and their candidate have millions of dollars to spend on this race, I do not.
I am an average West Virginian with a wonderful wife and amazing little boy. I mow my own lawn. I pay my own bills and, no, I am not a millionaire. I have worked hard my entire life and believe in the principles of integrity and ethics. I worked to obtain four law degrees and have practiced law at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals for the past nine years.
Previously, I have worked as a Senior Assistant Attorney General, Special Prosecuting Attorney, Assistant to a County Prosecutor, Special Assistant to a U.S. Congressman, and as a Direct Aide to Governor Gaston Caperton.
I am running for the Supreme Court to give people a voice over special interest groups. My campaign did not accept a single dime in PAC money and the largest contribution to my campaign was $100. If they are looking for someone who they can control with their special interest money, then I am not that candidate.
Loughry is an attorney at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and also a 2012 candidate for this year’s Supreme Court election.
Editor’s Note: Blass is president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. His column appeared last week.