Clean elections scored a big victory on November 6, when Alan Loughry won a seat on the West Virginia State Supreme Court. This surprised many, as he was the only candidate to use public funding and he beat out Tish Chaffin, who used her wealth to donate almost a million dollars to her own campaign. Pundits thus far have attributed Loughry’s victory to the “positive” campaign he ran, but how was his campaign able to be this “positive”? What is the other side of this story? Public finance paved the way for him to be able to run this type of campaign!
George Carenbauer, an attorney and elections expert was quoted in the State Journal as saying, “For one thing, the public financing did give him enough money to make an incredible race to begin with, he didn’t get the matching money but the base amount… That gave him enough to run a race. That was followed up with free publicity of the lawsuit.” For more info about the lawsuit, click here.
So, even without the promised matching funds, the pilot program that provided public financing for the race proved a success. By not having to constantly fund raise, or being beholden to corporate money or having to being independently wealthy, not only was Loughry able to run a positive campaign, but he also set an example for future elections.
The Charleston Gazette reported that Loughry received a message from a young man in Roane County he never met. “Congratulations,” the young man wrote. “I have been waiting so long for ‘an average Joe’ to be elected to such an important office. The fact that a candidate who spent millions of dollars to promote her campaign was unsuccessful has given me hope that I can be a successful public servant and politician in West Virginia, even though I came from an average working class family.”
The article goes on to quote Loughry as saying, “(Senator Robert) Byrd told me personally about how, if he started running in recent years, it would have been impossible for him to win an election in West Virginia, given the amount of money in politics.”
“He grew up with very little money, but was able to go out and meet people and win an election and how impossible that would be today. I want to see things change.”
Public financing, then, is leading the way to this change and proving to work.
To quote Loughry again, “The West Virginia Supreme Court should not be political. People want to feel like they’re selecting judges and not partisan politicians.
“Everywhere I went, talked about how judges should follow the law, whether dealing with a large corporation or an individual who is unemployed. Treat everybody the same.”
This summarizes the message of West Virginians for Clean Elections: We want voter owned candidates, not those beholden to corporate dollars.
So, we congratulate Alan Loughry on his positive campaign and look forward to many more campaigns like this, run without corporate money or the need to be rich. Given the money to run through public finance people can talk about the real issues instead of looking for contributors.
Even with a lawsuit against the matching funds provision, which just gave Loughry free publicity, the program still worked. Now just imagine how well the program will work once we get it fixed, permanently funded and enshrined into law!
But, we are going to need your help, otherwise the program will expire. So, if you want more Supreme Court justices who are “voter owned,” contact your state representative and ask her or him to fix and extend public financing for state Supreme Court races. Then we can work on getting public finance for other races. In a post Citizens United environment, these programs are so vital with all the outside money pouring into our elections.
Until we can get an amendment overturning Citizens United, we need solutions now, and public financing, as we see from this race, is a proven solution.
To get involved in OVEC’s Clean Elections work, receive same letters, fact sheets or other information, contact Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Clean Elections website.