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As Sharon McCloskey reported in this space yesterday, the the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a modest victory for democracy this week when it said that states can ban direct campaign solicitations by judges. Would that North Carolina would join the list of states to do so.

What was perhaps the most amazing thing about the Court’s ruling, however, was Chief Justice John Roberts’ rationale. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress explains:

“Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion for the Court in Williams-Yulee is certainly better for campaign finance regulation than a decision striking down this limit on judicial candidates — had the case gone the other way, judges could have been given the right to solicit money from the very lawyers who practice before them. Yet Roberts also describes judges as if they are special snowflakes who must behave in a neutral and unbiased way that would simply be inappropriate for legislators, governors and presidents:

‘States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such ‘responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.’ The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. A judge instead must ‘observe the utmost fairness,’ striving to be “perfectly and completely independent, with nothing to influence or controul [sic] him but God and his conscience.” As in White, therefore, our precedents applying the First Amendment to political elections have little bearing on the issues here.’

Most Americans would undoubtedly agree that judges should not ‘follow the preferences’ of their political supporters, as they would agree that judges should not ‘provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.’ But the implication of the passage quoted above is that members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors and presidents should provide such consideration to their supporters and to their donors. The President of the United States is the president of the entire United States. A member of Congress represents their entire constituency. Yet Roberts appears to believe that they should ‘follow the preferences’ of their supporters and give ‘special consideration’ to the disproportionately wealthy individuals who fund their election.”

Sadly, as Millhiser concludes, the view that it’s okay for donors to buy politicians is at the heart of the Court’s unabashed ruling in the infamous Citizens United decision. What’s bizarre about this week’s ruling is the Court majority’s apparent obliviousness to their own hypocrisy when it comes to donors buying judges.

Commentary

JudiciarySeats are going fast for a special Crucial Conversation luncheon next Tuesday, September 30

Dirty money, dirty water: The end of judicial campaign public financing in North Carolina with Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress and Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies

When: Tuesday, September 30, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register Read More

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Just in from the watchdogs at Democracy NC (click here to read the entire report):

State Legislators Pile Up $8 Million for Campaigns;
Incumbent Advantage Will Grow with PACs’ “Gratitude Money”

A review of financial reports by the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina shows that state legislators running for reelection have stockpiled more than $8 million in cash for the final months of the 2014 campaign.

Legislators of both parties can also expect a windfall in special-interest donations when the General Assembly adjourns, likely this week, said Bob Hall, director of the nonpartisan group.

The 101 Republican legislators seeking election to the NC House or Senate hold $6.8 million in cash, more than four times as much as the $1.5 million held by the 52 Democrats. (The other 17 legislators are retiring or running for another office, or they were defeated in the primary.)

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) led all lawmakers with $1,015,460 in cash as of June 30, the deadline for the most recent financial report. The next report is not due until late October. Senate Republican Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) is next with $444,267, followed by Democratic Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake) with $347,413.

Because Speaker Thom Tillis is running for the U.S. Senate, the Republicans in the House who have the most cash are Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) with $251,573 and Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) with $246,216. Both men have Democratic opponents in the general election, but neither challenger had more $9,000 as of June 30.

“The combination of big-money fundraising and highly partisan redistricting means we’re seeing less competition in general elections,” said Hall “It’s hard to hold legislators accountable when they don’t have competition.”

Of the 153 legislators seeking reelection, 74 – or nearly half of them – face no opposition from the other major party. Read More

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It kind of feels like dispensing praise for not robbing a bank, but hey, in today’s North Carolina political world , we’ll take what we can get.

Accordingly, the House of Representatives deserves a sincere ‘attaboy and ‘attagirl for passing legislation this week to require electronic records filing by most local and state candidates and political committees. The provision was watered down somewhat and doesn’t go into effect for three years, but it’s better than nothing. As the good people at the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform noted with justifiable pride:

“The North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is commends the NC House for passing a bill today to require electronic filing of campaign reports.  All political campaigns and committees raising and/or spending more than $5,000 will be required to submit electronic reports to the NC Board of Elections beginning January 1, 2017.

The Coalition has been working for over five years to get electronic filing which will make it easier for citizens to see how much money candidates raise and from whom.  It will save the state money because state employees will no longer have to key in data from handwritten or typed reports.
Read More

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As we sift through the aftermath of this week’s primary elections, folks should check out two new “must reads” from the state’s editorial pages about the bottom-of-the-barrel, big-money attack ads that infected the race for a state Supreme Court seat.

In this essay published in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, Melissa Price Kromm of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and Bert Brandenburg of the group Justice at Stake in Washington, D.C had this to say:

“After years of avoiding the explosion in judicial election spending nationwide, North Carolina is quickly earning an unwelcome reputation. In the 2011-2012 judicial election cycle, more than $3.5 million was spent for just one state Supreme Court seat; more than $2.8 million of that came from outside groups.

The soaring independent spending in North Carolina is in keeping with national trends since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that unleashed unlimited independent spending on elections

These trends pose a disturbing threat to our courts – that justice might be for sale. Read More