Political spending in judicial races need transparency

The recent Supreme Court spending scandal and charges against Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry are an opportunity to bring greater trust, accountability, and transparency to both the judicial system and the electoral process.

The charges against Justice Loughry are extremely troubling, and he should be appropriately disciplined if found guilty. Unfortunately, the public’s trust in the judiciary is already shaken, and rebuilding that trust won’t end with the resignation or removal of office of one individual.

West Virginians are rightly furious over Justice Loughry’s behavior, but we know they are also worried about another threat to public trust in the judiciary: the secret special-interest money in judicial elections.

Outside spending is playing a growing role in these elections in West Virginia and around the country, and the integrity of our state supreme courts in particular is threatened by this flood of special interest money, which is coming increasingly from secret sources.

To rebuild trust in the West Virginia judiciary and the electoral process, we must shed light on the money that is being spent behind voters’ backs. Bringing transparency to the judicial budgeting process is clearly a part of this, but legislators should seize this opportunity to bring disclosure to the secret money being spent to influence our votes and skew justice in favor of corporate and special interests.

West Virginia went from scandal to example before when it created a judicial public financing program so that state Supreme Court candidates wouldn’t have to rely on support from lawyers and special interest contributors who frequently have cases before the court.

With confidence in the ethics and standards of our judges at an all-time low, now more than ever we need to demand that all judges who run for election use this system that stands as a model for states across the country.

The goal of the program is to maintain the integrity of and improve confidence in both the judicial system and the electoral process — and that is exactly what West Virginia needs right now.

This column by Julie Archer, Coordinator of WV Citizens for Clean Elections, was published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on July 8, 2018. 

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The Author

Julie Archer

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