New year brings more money to judicial races, end to public financing

The editorial board of the Greensboro News & Record raises a red flag over  how spending in statewide judicial campaigns will change with the new year. The paper notes that the General Assembly changed finance laws for the N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals contests in 2013, opening the floodgates to allow more outside money to influence those races in 2014.

The News & Record reports:

‘The major change was to kill the public funding option, which provided qualifying candidates with about $250,000 to run their campaigns. It meant they could not rely on wealthy lawyers and special-interest groups for support and therefore were not beholden to them.

Some of this money came from taxpayers; most was collected from a $50 annual fee paid by attorneys. It afforded a fair system that more than 80 percent of candidates chose to participate in over the past decade.

While eliminating this option, the legislature also raised the amount of money an individual donor can give to a judicial candidate from $1,000 to $5,000. The higher limit multiplies the potential influence and inflates the likely campaign budgets of candidates for the state’s courts.

Who’s going to contribute $5,000 to a judicial candidate? Let’s hope only those citizens who want to help the most qualified, experienced and honest individuals win these very important offices. Let’s also hope the generous donors aren’t people who have particular agendas and aim to get a return on their sizable investment.

The stakes are high. Four of seven Supreme Court seats are up for election in 2014, including that of retiring Chief Justice Sarah Parker. Although the court is officially nonpartisan, and generally does not rule in an obviously partisan way, political interests tend to view the court through partisan lenses. They note that four justices are registered Republicans and three are registered Democrats. This narrow divide will prompt efforts on one side to flip the ratio and on the other to hold it. Millions of dollars may be spent to accomplish these purposes, by outside groups and by the candidates themselves.

Screen grab from Paul Newby 'Tough but Fair' campaign commercial.

Screen grab from Paul Newby ‘Tough but Fair’ campaign commercial.

In the 2012 election, Justice Paul Newby was aided by independent spending notable for an often-aired TV ad that portrayed him as a lawman chasing down crooks with bloodhounds — as if he were running for sheriff in a backwoods county.

If that’s what more money in judicial campaigns will buy, it won’t serve voters or the integrity of the courts well.

Whom will it serve? Why did the legislature open to door to greater big-money influence in judicial races? Why were these changes tucked into a sweeping election reform bill highlighted by a voter ID requirement that drew almost all the attention?

Those questions ought to concern North Carolina residents who value the fair and impartial administration of justice. This is not where more money needs to be spent.’


  1. ML

    January 2, 2014 at 11:14 am

    This could be one of the most devastating things that Art Pope did last year. Why does he spend so much money if it has no influence? Bc it does and he gets what wants, he tried but failed for years in the general assembly but was the able to buy the gov and many seats in the GA to finally repeal public funding and increase private donations for judicial races.

    If you don’t know already judges are very important for shaping policy.

  2. LayintheSmakDown

    January 2, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Taking public money out of the equation is a good thing. The funny thing is it will likely be liberals who come out on top as the profession is highly liberal in the first place and the “wealthy lawyers and special interest groups” are essentially their liberal buddies like Fitzy.

  3. ML

    January 2, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Democrats are for public funding. Art pope is against it. Why would the liberals pass laws limiting donations from “wealthy lawyers and special interest” or buddies of fitz as you say, that were only helping liberals?

    The reason was to increase minority population on the bench and keep people like art pope from owning a judge aka judge newby. But he has managed to eliminate the public funding and increase limits so he can pour as much money as possible so judges will be beholden to him.

  4. Alan

    January 3, 2014 at 7:10 am

    LSD has a problem understanding democracy and the role of pay-to-play politics, now extended to include the legal system. I guess it’s OK to buy anyone according to their playbook, and pretend this is the way a democracy is supposed to work.

    LSD overlooks (deliberately) which political party’s behind the purge of public financing. Oh, I wonder why?

  5. LayintheSmakDown

    January 3, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    And your premise is that pay to play is not and has not always been there…..and that democrats do not play the game at least as well as Republicans. You live in quite the fantasy world. Check the donor lists of R and d and you see the same players, corporations and individuals all seek to influence both sides and few choose one side or the other.

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