Conference in federal campaign finance case set for Tuesday



CHARLESTON - A federal judge has scheduled a hearing in a lawsuit over the constitutionality of the state's Public Campaign Financing Pilot Program for Tuesday.

Judge Joseph R. Goodwin, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, filed a one-page order Thursday. In it, he set an initial case management conference for 1 p.m. Tuesday.

All lead or local counsel are directed to appear at the conference in person, Goodwin wrote.

In the federal lawsuit, plaintiff Michael Callaghan claims that the pilot program violates the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution by "unduly impinging upon protected political speech and association" as set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett.

Specifically, Callaghan -- a Charleston attorney and former chairman of the state's Democratic Party -- argues that the matching funds provision of the program is unconstitutional.

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who serves as a member of the State Election Commission, along with Gary A. Collias, William N. Renzelli and Robert Rupp, were named as defendants in Callaghan's suit.

In an order earlier this month, Goodwin granted Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry's motion to intervene in the federal case over the pilot program, which was established in 2010 for candidates seeking a seat on the state's high court.

Loughry, a Republican, is the only candidate in this year's Court race to opt into the program, which state lawmakers passed in an attempt to reduce the influence of special interest money.

Loughry has since sued in the state Supreme Court, seeking to force the SEC to follow the existing laws and provide his campaign with the additional funding.

In Loughry's 26-page petition for writ of mandamus, filed with the state's high court July 30, he argues that the SEC "failed to carry out the unambiguous duty" imposed under the pilot program.

"Through this failure, the commission violated the statutory command of W.Va. Code 3-12-11(e), which requires the commission to authorize the release of funds once a determination has been made that the conditions for a release of supplemental funds have been met," his petition states.

"Due to the commission's failure to follow the law and perform this ministerial duty, the commission also failed to perform its duty, working with the offices of the State Treasurer and State Auditor, to cause the funds to be disbursed to Petitioner Loughry's campaign."

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for 10 a.m. Sept. 4.

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