With the endorsement of former governors Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Jim Holshouser, North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and Justice at Stake today announced a campaign to save the state’s judicial public financing program.
The Judges Not Politicians campaign comes at a time when three separate Republican-sponsored bills — H451, S495 and S541 — are pending in the General Assembly to eliminate the public financing system — the first of its kind across the country and the model for other states seeking to control the influence of special interests in judicial elections.
The threatened elimination of that system has triggered a bipartisan pushback from state judges, politicians and members of the business community who see the inherent value in keeping political money away from the bench.
Even before the current bills were introduced, a group of NC business and civic leaders along with Hunt and Holshouser wrote state legislators in support of the program:
. . . we join together to urge you to protect the integrity of the judicial system and preserve the judicial public financing program and Public Campaign Fund. Many of us would prefer a different model for selecting judges, but as long as we elect the members of our state’s top courts, we should continue this vital program.
Hunt and Holshouser reiterated their support for public financing this weekend in an editorial that appeared in newspapers across the state:
As former Republican and Democratic governors, we often disagree. But here’s one area where we agree: North Carolina’s courts must be protected from the corrosive influence of special-interest campaign money.
Sitting Court of Appeals Judge J. Douglas McCullough, a Republican, likewise praised the public financing system during an interview on WUNC last week. McCullough discussed his own campaign, saying that he appreciated the integrity it helped maintain in the courts:
I enjoyed having the public financing because I had to quality for that…I had to go out and raise some money, but I didn’t have to raise an extensive amount of money that anybody would think would compromise me in any way. The most I could ask for was $500 dollars. . . I don’t think anybody’s going to think that raising those kind of sums is going to compromise somebody, particularly when you have to get it from so many people . . . It’s not like you are in the hands on one particular group or another.