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Here’s an interesting twist to the growing perception that partisanship and private money are creeping into judicial elections: What happens when elected judges are asked to interpret campaign finance rules that have governed their own campaigns?

That’s what’s playing out in a case argued yesterday before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals involving provisions of the state’s “stand by your ad” law. That law requires candidates or committees to disclose who’s paid for television ads they run.

After the 2010 election, the Friends of Joe Sam Queen — the committee for the Democratic candidate running for the 47th Senate District seat that year — sued his challenger Ralph Hise’s committee and the Republican Executive Committee for violations of that law.

Hise went on to win that seat, and is now seeking re-election. Joe Sam Queen is running for a House seat this year.

In the case before the court, Queen claimed that the Republicans paid for Hise ads but didn’t disclose that, allowing the ads to air instead with the statement “paid for by Ralph Hise for Senate.”

His committee wants to collect the nearly $250,000 Hise paid for those ads as damages, as permitted under the “stand by your ad” law.

But the Hise committee said he paid for the ads by virtue of an account the Republicans had set up with the campaign’s media company, American Media, for the benefit of candidates. The party deposited funds into that account, but only after Hise approved an ad could American Media draw down on that account to pay for air time and expenses. Read More

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Could it be that the very idea of a super PAC supporting the election of a state Supreme Court justice has scared away donors?

The much-hyped NC Judicial Coalition — formed back in April to support the re-election of Justice Paul Newby, according to one of its founders, conservative businessman Bob Luddy — filed its initial campaign reports with the state board of elections on Oct. 5 and Oct. 9.  According to those reports, the committee has received no contributions and spent nothing  through June 30, 2012.

That’s somewhat  surprising, given that former GOP chair and now lobbyist Tom Fetzer told the Charlotte Observer in June that the committee had already received “support”  from large and small donors across the state.

But the filed reports only cover a short period of time since the super PAC’s organization. More telling perhaps will be the campaign finance report due for filing on Oct. 29, just days before the election, which should detail contributions and expenditures from July 1 through Oct. 20.

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It’s been months since the North Carolina Judicial Coalition sprang on to the election scene as an upstart in the otherwise sleepy world of judicial elections.

State and national media portrayed the super PAC—formed by former state Republican Party chair Tom Fetzer, conservative businessman Bob Luddy (founder of the private Thales Academy schools) and others to help finance the re-election of sitting Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby—as an example of the unlimited campaign spending that could be unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and a particularly dangerous one, given that judges were involved.

Unlike Newby and his Democratic challenger Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV, who’ve both accepted public financing, PACs like the Judicial Coalition have no limits on how much they collect and spend, other than they can’t contribute directly to a candidate committee. They are otherwise free to support or oppose candidates as they see fit.

So what’s the Judicial Coalition been up to since June?

Tough to tell, since it has yet to tell the state board of elections how much money it’s raised and how it’s spent that money. Read More