Politics & Government

Bill to provide public financing of Ky. Supreme Court races makes it out of committee

FRANKFORT — The House Budget Committee approved a bill Tuesday night that would allow for optional public financing of Kentucky Supreme Court races after the panel earlier in the day failed to garner enough votes for it.

The sponsor of House Bill 31, Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, found enough Democratic votes to get a second vote on the measure and send it to the full House for consideration.

Earlier in the day, the bill came up one vote shy of getting out of committee.

This is the third year in a row that state lawmakers have considered a similar measure. Four Kentucky Supreme Court districts are to be contested next year.

Under the bill, a candidate would have to get $25 contributions from 200 people in the district to qualify for public financing. The public money would come from an income tax refund check-off, unspent funds from other campaigns and voluntary contributions from the state bar association.

Richard Beliles, head of the watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky, told lawmakers that a U.S. Supreme Court case has "opened the door to a floodgate of money" for elections.

The Citizens United case brought a landmark 2010 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.

Beliles said he feared the judicial system will be harmed by the ruling.

Some budget committee members expressed concern that a state Supreme Court candidate who took public financing could not compete against a well-heeled candidate who declined it.

Wayne said the bill is intended to change the climate of big money in elections.

Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, voted for the bill but said he had his doubts that it would work.

Wayne also said he had doubts but that "we want our elections to be as clean as possible."