CHARLESTON – A day after state Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry sued the State Election Commission for not following through in providing his campaign public financing money, the panel held an emergency meeting.
At the meeting Tuesday morning, the SEC voted to "actively defend" the constitutionality of the matching funds law passed by the state Legislature and to defend the action in state and federal court. The SEC also made a motion stating that it encourages its attorneys to expedite resolution of the questions about the matching funds in court as soon as possible.
Chairman of the State Election Commission Dr. Robert Rupp; Secretary of State Natalie Tennant; State Election Commission members Gary A. Collias and William N. Renzelli; and General Counsel for the commission Silas Taylor, Ashley Summitt and Tim Leach were all in attendance at the emergency meeting.
The emergency meeting began with a motion to go into executive session, which was voted for and agreed to.
After the executive session, Rupp made a motion that the SEC actively encourages its attorneys to expedite the resolution and another motion that the SEC defend the constitutionality of the matching funds law passed by the Legislature and defend it in both the State and Federal Court, which was met with a unanimous vote of agreement.
Neither motion met with questions or discussion, and the meeting was dismissed.
The emergency meeting comes after Loughry, a Republican, announced Monday he had petitioned the state Supreme Court to force the State Election Commission to follow the existing laws and provide his campaign with additional funding.
"In response to the staggering amount of money that has poured into judicial elections during recent years, the West Virginia Legislature overwhelmingly passed this law," Loughry said Tuesday. "The intent of the law was to make judicial elections fair and to eliminate the perception that Supreme Court seats are being bought by attorneys who practice before the court or by individuals or groups who spend millions of dollars to elect justices.
"I want to thank the State Election Commission members for their unanimous 4-0 vote today to defend the constitutionality of the pilot program law. Given their unanimous vote in support of this law, I am asking the Commission to immediately authorize the release of the funds to my campaign."
Loughry stressed that Tuesday's vote does not affect pending litigation.
"I will be working closely with my legal team in hopes that these issues get resolved expeditiously," he said. "I am honored to have the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and Huntington attorney Marc Williams with me in taking on this fight on behalf of all West Virginians who want fair judicial elections."
Loughry is the only state Supreme Court candidate that chose to opt into the public financing pilot program, which was passed in an attempt to reduce the influence of special interest money.
Loughry filed to intervene in a federal lawsuit earlier in July that he said seeks to strike down the pilot program's rescue funding provision.
The State Election Commission discussed the issues in an emergency meeting on July 17, but failed on a tie vote for a request to release rescue funds to Loughry.
Loughry already has received $400,000 in public finance funds for his campaign. But he says up to $700,000 should be awarded to him based on the spending of other candidates in the race.
The SEC took no action Tuesday regarding the release of the additional funds.
The SEC has declined to release the money after the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out a similar case in Arizona. The SEC also uses an opinion from state Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office saying the court might strike down part of the West Virginia law.