One of the many possible avenues to transparency would be to promote and institute publicly financed elections. Allen Loughry is a Republican running for one of the three open Supreme Court seats in West Virginia, and requested access to public funds in accordance with West Virginia’s pilot program for publicly funded elections. However, the West Virginia Gazette reports that:
The West Virginia matching fund provision places a “substantial burden on the unfettered political speech of the privately financed candidates” and could not withstand a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, based on its rulings in two other cases, state Supreme Court justices said in their ruling denying Loughry’s motion…
…While recognizing that as a laudable goal, the court ruled that the current public financing pilot project could not achieve its intended goal since only one of the four candidates on the ballot, Loughry, is using public financing.
The West Virginia Gazette further reports on the Court ruling that:
The government matching funds serve no other purpose than ‘leveling the playing field’ between one publicly funded candidate and the three privately financed candidates.
The current doctrine is that campaign contributions are considered free speech. Given that, privately funded candidates that exercise “unfettered political speech” have the capacity to drown out their underfunded opposition. If the sole purpose is to “level the playing field,” then someone who doesn’t have access to those same private funds should, in turn, not be deprived of that same monetary megaphone. Loughry had it right as he argued that:
The pilot project’s goal of strengthening the public’s confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary is a compelling state interest, but not at the cost of burdening the First Amendment rights of the other candidates in the race.
Rather than applauding the effort of one man to tap into public funding of elections, the WV Supreme Court instead reinforced that the game to play in the current political landscape is a race to the top of the fundraising charts. It’s yet another example of the precedent set by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision.