A new report out by the group Justice at Stake, in conjunction with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, ranks North Carolina second in the nation for spending on judicial elections in 2014, with more than $6 million doled out during that cycle.
The $4 million raised by the nine candidates for the four open seats on the state Supreme Court during those elections also broke state candidate fundraising records.
Among the other findings in Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14 were these:
• Because the legislature eliminated public financing, candidates looked to lawyers and lobbyists for support. Donations from these categories made up more than 40 percent of total contributions to candidates and made North Carolina second in judicial candidate fundraising across the nation.
• The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) was the biggest single source of election funds in the state. It gave $1.3 million to a local group called Justice for All NC, which spent $1.4 million on the North Carolina Supreme Court races and was the fifth highest spender nationally in 2013-14.
• Several groups with business interests sponsored TV ads in the election, including the North Carolina Chamber IE — a political arm of the state Chamber of Commerce — and the North Carolina Judicial Coalition.
• The 2014 race marked the second consecutive North Carolina Supreme Court election cycle to generate seven-figure spending. In 2012, $4.5 million was spent on a single seat, although both candidates had opted into the then-operative public financing system.
• North Carolina ranked second nationally for TV spending at $3.1 million and first for the total number of ad airings at 10,903. Justice for All NC ran one of the most negative ads of the 2013-14 election cycle against incumbent Justice Hudson, claiming she ruled in favor of child predators. The North Carolina Bar Association condemned the spot.
“In 2014, the absence of North Carolina’s landmark judicial public financing program opened the door for a dramatic rise in special-interest spending in court races, which was exacerbated by a flood of spending by outside groups,” said Melissa Price Kromm, executive director of the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Coalition, which partnered with the Institute for Southern Studies to track the growth of spending in North Carolina’s 2014 judicial elections. “These findings underscore the need for common-sense reforms, including greater transparency and restoring North Carolina’s effective judicial public financing program.”
Read the full report here.