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(Source: nccourts.org)

Three candidates for the state Supreme Court — current Justices Robin Hudson and Cheri Beasley and Court of Appeals Judge Sam J. Ervin, IV will be holding news conferences today in three cities to discuss the latest influx of “dark money” from outside independent groups hoping to steer the race toward conservative-backed candidates.

As happened during the May primary, outside groups are pouring last-minute money into the coffers of Justice for All NC and its feeder group North Carolina Judicial Coalition for television ads to run throughout the state over these last few days of the election.

On October 24, the Republican State Leadership Committee sent Justice for All $400,000.

And on October 22, the pro-school choice group American Federation for Children gave Justice for All an additional $25,000 (totaling $75,000 so far for this election). That group has a vested interest in the outcome of the school voucher case, now pending before the high court.

(There is a lag time between the date of contributions, the date of filing a notice about them with the state elections board and the date that notice appears on the board’s website.)

Justice for All has already made media buys to run television ads in the Wilmington and Greensboro/High Point areas this week through Nov. 4.  The substance of those ads could not be confirmed as of this post.

The usual suspects are starting to load up the Judicial Coalition too — with tobacco company Reynolds American giving that group $50,000 and the insurance company Medical Mutual, $15,000 this past week.

If the strategy holds true to what happened in the 2012 Supreme Court race between Justice Paul Newby and Judge Ervin, the Judicial Coalition will pass that money on to Justice for All for media buys and other expenses.

As has now been widely reported, Justice for All spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run an attack ad against Justice Hudson in the days leading up to the May primary, in which Hudson faced off against Republican challengers Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran.

Political operatives and many judges — here and nationally — called that ad one of the worst attack ads ever.

Here’s New York Times columnist Joe Nocera just yesterday:

One of the most shocking ads aired this political season was aimed at a woman named Robin Hudson.

Hudson, 62, is not a congressional or Senate candidate. Rather, she is a State Supreme Court justice in North Carolina, seeking her second eight-year term.

This ad in North Carolina, which aired during the primary season, was a startling departure. First, the money came from an organization called Justice for All NC — which, in turn, was funded primarily by the Republican State Leadership Committee. That is to say, it was the kind of post-Citizens United money that has flooded the political system and polluted our politics.

And then there was its substance. “We want judges to protect us,” the ad began. The voice-over went on to say that when child molesters sued to stop electronic monitoring, Judge Hudson had “sided with the predators.” It was a classic attack ad.

Not surprisingly, the truth was a bit different. In 2010, the State Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether an electronic-monitoring law could apply to those who had been convicted before it passed. Hudson, in a dissent, wrote that the law could not be applied retroactively.

This year’s Supreme Court races are critically important, not only because four of the seven seats are up for grabs but also because of what the outcome will mean for the direction the court will take for many years to come.

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Outside groups that spent more than $2 million in last year’s heated N.C. Supreme Court justice race were highlighted this week in a report about the increasing role of Washington money in state judicial races.

As part of an article looking at how national political funders are getting involved in local judicial races, the Center for Public Integrity focused on $1.2 million from the Republican State Leadership Council. The money flowed through to an ad featuring a banjo-strumming narrator singing about how N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby is tough on crime, according to the report.

(Newby, of course, ended up defeating challenger Sam Ervin IV, a N.C. Court of appeal judge, in the November election.)

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan investigative news organization, found that “North Carolina’s Supreme Court election was arguably decided by groups like Justice for All — secretive nonprofits, unaffiliated with a candidate, whose money came from out of state,”

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For a non-partisan election, there’s a lot of conservative money being funneled toward the campaign to re-elect Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby. You just have to follow the thread.

And with just days left until the election, the superPAC NC Justice for All — the largest donor to the superPAC NC Judicial Coalition, formed to support the re-election of Newby – still has hundreds of thousands to spend.

It had little in its coffers through July, but since then the dollars have been rolling in. According to its third quarter report filed with the state board of elections on Oct. 29, Justice for All NC had received more than $1 million in contributions through Oct. 20, with another $338,000 posted after that date.

The bulk of that money — $860,000 — came from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington D.C., a group with a keen interest in the outcome of the redistricting case likely to land in the state Supreme Court over the next year or two. That’s an interest shared by several state conservatives who’ve donated to the RSLC – in September alone, Art Pope’s Variety Stores donated $150,000, western Carolina businessman Phil Drake, $50,000, and Bob Luddy (who also donated $25,000 to the Judicial Coalition) $50,000.

Thus far, Justice for All has spent $720,000 of that money to help the Judicial Coalition foot the $1.6 million bill for the airing of the “Newby Tough but Fair” banjo ads. It has spent little other than that, with $25,000 going to polling and another $16,000 on legal and accounting fees.

Also donating in a big way to Justice for All to help push Newby across the finish line are the pro-school choice American Federation for Children in Washington ($100,000); tobacco affiliate RAI Services ($100,000); pro-medical liability reform group North Carolinians for Affordable Health Care ($100,000); medical liability insurance company Medical Mutual ($75,000); and a number of smaller state PACS and individuals.

Justice for All was formed back in May by Amy B. Ellis — who also formed Vote for Marriage NC back in Nov. 2011 and ACT NOW in 2009. The committee’s stated purpose is to “promote justice for all citizens and support qualified candidates for judicial office.”