State Supreme Court Election Law Challenged

     CHARLESTON, W.Va. (CN) – An attorney-plaintiff claims West Virginia’s financing system for state Supreme Court elections is unconstitutional.



     Michael Callaghan, a practicing attorney and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, sued West Virginia’s Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the four members of the State Election Commission, in Federal Court.
     “Plaintiff makes contributions to candidates for elected office in West Virginia and wishes to make contributions to the two non-participating candidates nominated by the Democratic Party for the 2012 election to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia,” the complaint states. “Because the contributions would trigger matching funds to one of the opposing candidates, Plaintiff will not do so.
     Callaghan challenges the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Public Financing Pilot Program, which provides matching funds to publicly financed candidates for the state Supreme Court in this year’s election.
     Callaghan claims that the program violates his right to free speech, and prevents him from contributing to two non-participating Democratic candidates for the court.
     “Although plaintiff would like to make candidate contributions and independent expenditures in this election, he will not exercise his First Amendment rights because of the speech-chilling effects of the Act’s matching funds law,” his complaint states.
     The act provides up to $350,000 to participating candidates in a contested general election. If a nonparticipating candidate spends more than $420,000, the participating candidate is eligible to receive dollar-for-dollar contributions of the sums expended in excess of $350,000, up to an additional $700,000 in taxpayer money.
     “Plaintiff opposes the use of taxpayer money to finance elections,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff, together and in combination with others, wishes to conduct independent expenditures in favor of candidates who oppose public financing and/or in opposition to candidates who accept public funds to support their campaigns.”
     Callaghan says he will not make campaign contributions to current Justice Robin Davis and candidate Letitia Chafin because it will trigger matching funds for the only candidate participating in the program – in this case Republican candidate Allen Loughry.
     The act was intended to prevent undue influence in judicial elections because “impartiality is uniquely important to the integrity and credibility of the courts.”
     Similar measures have been struck down in other states.
     Callaghan is represented by Anthony Majestro with Powell & Majestro in Charleston.

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