Judicial Elections Category

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LOD: Candidates Rewarded for Good

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

In the midst of Super PAC spending and candidates hustling big-dollar donors, here’s a positive story from North Carolina: Candidates are actually agreeing to accept strict campaign spending limits and to rely only on small donations and a public grant authorized by hundreds of registered voters!

Today, the State Board of Elections sent notices to all eight candidates for the NC Supreme Court and NC Court of Appeals that they had fulfilled the necessary requirements to qualify for public grants to partly support their campaigns. To qualify, the candidates raised scores of relatively small donations from registered voters and accepted strict spending and fundraising limits (e.g., no PAC or out-of-state donations). The two candidates running against each other for a seat on the state Supreme Court will each receive $240,100 in public funds. The six running for three seats on the NC Court of Appeals each receive $164,400. The public funds come from a voluntary check-off on the NC tax form and a surcharge on fees paid by attorneys.

This is the first election cycle in which all candidates in statewide judicial elections qualified for public funds – a record made more significant because the US Supreme Court recently ruled that no additional “rescue funds” may be awarded if a qualifying candidate is later hit by large spending from an outside group or opposing candidate. See this report for an analysis of the public financing program through 2010.

In addition, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and State Auditor Beth Wood both qualified to receive public support for their re-election campaigns after gathering hundreds of small donations from registered voters. They will each receive about $214,000 beginning with an initial payment of $71,419 that the State Board of Elections authorized today.


LOD: Justice at Stake

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

A trio of groups that analyze judicial elections today released a report documenting a national campaign “to intimidate America’s state judges into becoming accountable to money and ideologies instead of the Constitution and the law.” The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2010 examines the “hostile takeover” of judicial elections by special interests and the attacks on impartial courts by state legislatures. The report was written by the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

North Carolina is held up as a national model because it provides state judicial candidates with a viable public financing alternative to the private money chase. The pioneering program has earned acclaim from reformers, the American Bar Association, and NC judges across the political spectrum. A blog entry today by Mark Binker at the Greensboro News & Record notes that Republican leaders in the NC General Assembly plan to keep the program, but delete a rescue-funds provision that mirrors one struck down by the US Supreme Court. The public grants and a state voter guide are not funded from the NC General Fund. A similar program for some Council of State offices will be suspended because it only has money from the General Fund; efforts last year to provide an independent source of funding for that Voter-Owned Elections program were stymied.


LOD: Suing on the Money

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Anti-public financing lawyer James Bopp has filed a lawsuit to make North Carolina abandon part of the “voter-owned elections” program for state judicial candidates. It’s the part that awards candidates in the public program extra money if their privately financed opponents spend beyond a certain limit. But the US Supreme Court has already ruled that a similar matching funds provision in Arizona is illegal, and NC regulators say they have no intent of using the NC version of the provision. In fact, on Thursday, the State Board of Elections ordered the Town of Chapel Hill to abandon the provision in its program for municipal candidates in 2011. So why did Bopp file his lawsuit? Maybe he wants to make a point: He had challenged this provision years ago and the federal courts repeatedly ruled against him and his client, the NC Right to Life organization. But now that Chief Justice John Roberts is in charge, facts and precedent matter less than ideology and politics. As a result, James Bopp has been on a roll; he’s the same attorney who brought the Citizens United case to the Supremes. In his current suit against North Carolina, he also wants to collect attorney’s fees – and some say his suit may just be a way to get a judge to award him a million dollars or more for the expenses of his previous NC suits that failed. Hmm . . . J. Bopp, a publicly financed lawyer.


LOD: Supremes Veto Rescue Funds

Monday, June 27th, 2011

The US Supreme Court issued its expected 5-to-4 rejection of the matching or rescue funds provision in Arizona’s public campaign financing program. Some worried that the activist justices would overreach (as they did in the Citizens United decision) and find some means to outlaw public financing altogether. That didn’t happen; maybe the public’s outrage over the CU decision had an effect. In his opinion for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts proclaimed that public financing programs are indeed constitutional and their “wisdom” is “none of our business,” i.e., not a question for the courts to settle. The dissenting opinion on matching funds, written by Justice Kagan, is especially worth reading – beginning on page 37 of the ruling. Here’s one link to the ruling, highlights of Kagan’s dissent and a number of statements about the impact of the case. Other models of public financing, particularly the multiple match for small-dollar donations (as used in New York City and the proposed Fair Elections Now Act), will likely get a boost from the decision. Statements from the NC Center for Voter Education and Justice at Stake suggest that rescue funds in programs for judicial elections may be viewed differently by the Supreme Court, but even if not, a public financing option can and should be offered to protect us from the consequences of justice for sale.


LOD: Judicial Public Financing

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The same rightwing law firm that engineered the Citizens United decision also attacked North Carolina’s judicial public financing program a few years ago; they took their challenge all the way to the US Supreme Court and lost. Now they’re representing a “right to life” group in Wisconsin, claiming that state’s new judicial program (modeled on ours) is unconstitutional. Democracy North Carolina and others have signed onto an amicus brief supporting the public’s right to sponsor a viable public campaign financing option, especially for judicial elections. Because judges have a constitutional duty to be impartial, there is a “compelling government interest” in preventing even the appearance of bias or corruption. The brief says this interest even justifies some public financing provisions that might be struck down for programs covering other elective offices – particularly the “rescue” or matching funds provision that helps enrolled candidates keep up with their opponent’s spending against them. The Supreme Court recently heard a case challenging Arizona’s system of providing matching funds (the McComish v. Bennett case). Most observers expect a 5-to-4 decision very soon that will throw out the matching-funds provision as an unconstitutional burden on the “free speech” (i.e., fundraising) of privately financed candidates. But even with the expected hostile decision, North Carolina’s judicial public financing program can continue, maybe without its rescue funds provision or maybe we’ll provide another test case.


Take action to protect voting rights:

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

We are writing to alert you to a new attack against basic voting rights in North Carolina. A new bill in the NC Senate would eliminate Same-Day Registration and youth pre-registration, slice a week off Early Voting, end Sunday voting, and require other changes that will make it much harder for millions of NC citizens to vote. We will fight this bill (S-657) and keep you updated about what you can do to help.

Right now, we are asking you to:

  • Sign up for our special action alerts on voting rights issues if you are interested in getting more involved. Visit http://bit.ly/l7GF8g to sign up.
  • Learn more about this bill and similar bills at our on-line Take Action Center: http://bit.ly/ilytg1. You’ll find information on the bills, flyers, action ideas and resources for both individuals and groups.

Also, please be aware that NC’s nationally-acclaimed public campaign programs for statewide judicial and Council of State candidates are under attack. Last week, Republican legislators attempted to eliminate them during the budget debate. Fortunately, Reps. Rick Glazier, Joe Hackney, Grier Martin and Deborah Ross courageously defended the programs and the attempt was withdrawn — for now. View video coverage of the debate at http://bit.ly/lJ4tsU.

We urge you to forward this email to others and to encourage them to visit our on-line Voting Rights Action Center at http://bit.ly/ilytg1.

We remain committed to “of, by and for the people,”
Your Democracy NC Team

P.S.: As we’ve documented often in our Link-of-the-Day reports, these bills are being pushed by NC House and Senate members who were elected thanks to millions in campaign contributions from ultra-conservative groups funded by NC retail millionaire, Art Pope. Learn more about his influence over NC politics at http://bit.ly/hDG9mX.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday, April 1st, 2011

If you’re doing your taxes this weekend (or later), don’t forget to check the $3 question on the NC income tax form about the NC Public Campaign Fund. Checking YES does not change your tax or refund; it just transfers $3 to the Fund from what you’re paying anyway. The Fund pays for the judicial voter guide and helps statewide judicial candidates who accept strict spending and fundraising limits. The program has been highly successful and the model for others in New Mexico, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Unfortunately, a large number of tax preparers will not check the $3 box or ask the taxpayer; you must look over their shoulder and tell them to “Check the 3 for NC.” (A separate $3 check-off on the NC form will send $3 to the political party of your choice, so don’t be confused. There are two check-offs, one for a political party fund and one for the Public Campaign Fund.)


Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday, March 25th, 2011

The US Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday about the constitutionality of the matching (or rescue) funds provision in Arizona’s public financing program. We have a similar provision in our North Carolina programs, so the ultimate decision (expected in late summer) will affect us, too.  The Brennan Center has an overview of the issues in the McComish v. Bennett case, plus links to various resources; and Justice at Stake calls attention to the decision’s impact on judicial public financing programs, like the one we have in North Carolina. Even if the Supremes rule against a government program providing rescue funds to qualified candidates, that does not mean the end of public financing. The New York City system and the federal Fair Elections Now Act are models of programs that provide adequate resources for a candidate without relying on that provision.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

A poll of North Carolina voters indicates a large majority believe campaign contributions influence how judges rule in cases. By a 2.5-to-1 ratio, voters would also look unfavorably on state legislators who voted to eliminate North Carolina’s innovative judicial public financing program. The press release highlights a number of other questions in the poll sponsored by the NC Center for Voter Education and Justice At Stake.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday, February 14th, 2011

What can be done about the unhealthy role of large private contributions in judicial elections? North Carolina led the nation by modifying the “clean elections” model of public financing to apply to judicial campaigns. In contrast to providing a positive alternative, New York is about to impose a new restriction on judges: you must not hear cases involving attorneys or parties in the dispute who have given more than $2,500 in the previous two years to your campaign. The New York Times article gives a good overview of the recent history of big money’s damaging influence in judicial elections, with multiple links. New York’s Administrative Board of the Courts adopted the ban on judges hearing certain cases as a means to protect the integrity of the court system. “Nothing could be more important for the judiciary than to have the public see that we’re neutral arbiters of disputes,” said Jonathan Lippman, the state’s chief judge. “If we don’t have that, we don’t have anything.”


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