This election year, North Carolina could see its highest participation rate ever for the state’s public campaign financing program for judicial elections.
Eleven of twelve candidates have declared their intent to participate in the state’s Voter-Owned Elections program during the 2010 cycle. These include both candidates for state Supreme Court and nine candidates for four Court of Appeals seats. The only candidate who has not yet filed their intent is current Court of Appeals judge Ann Marie Calabria. (Note: One of the declared candidates, Court of Appeals judge Sanford Steelman, has declared his intent, but will not qualify to receive public money because he faces no opposition).
Under the program which was created in 2002, candidates must raise around $40,000 in small donations (between $10 and $500) from at least 350 registered voters, agree to strict fund-raising and spending limits, and be listed on the general election ballot (i.e. make it past the primary). In exchange, candidates receive a public grant that allows them to avoid being financially dependent on lawyers and litigation-interest groups who have vested interests in court outcomes (these groups were the primary funders of judicial races before NC’s program was created). During the 2010 cycle, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court candidates who qualify will receive $164,400 and $240,100 grants, respectively.