CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia would continue to offer public funds to Supreme Court candidates through a measure passed Wednesday to the state Senate by the House of Delegates.
The sole participant in last year's public financing experiment, Republican Justice Allen Loughry, was also one of the winners in the two-seat race. But Wednesday's 70-29 vote reflected opposition by 28 of the 45 GOP delegates present.
Concerns about public confidence in the courts prompted the 2012 pilot as an alternative to traditional campaign fundraising. The program that would become permanent under the bill would offer a qualifying candidate up to $300,000 for a contested primary and $525,000 for a contested general election campaign.
The amounts are larger than what the pilot provided. But that experiment also included "rescue" funds meant to help keep pace with opponents. The State Election Commission balked at providing rescue funds to Loughry. It cited federal court rulings against similar public financing provisions in other states.
Loughry challenged that decision, but the state Supreme Court upheld it. Delegate Tim Manchin noted Wednesday how Loughry prevailed despite that ruling and after both of the Democratic nominees outspent him.
"I think that's a testament to the public's acceptance of this," the Marion County Democrat said. "It is a good way to get special interest money out of elections and to maintain and improve the integrity of our court."
But House Minority Whip Daryl Cowles declared the pilot a failure. While the Morgan County Republican welcomed Loughry's election, he said the GOP nominee won "not necessarily because of this but in spite of this program."
Cowles instead suggested another temporary pilot program.