Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Public Financing' Category

NC Legislators Vote to Change Judicial Selection, Repeal Public Financing

North Carolina’s legislature keeps passing legislation to change the way judges are selected.

After legislators passed a budget bill last week that ends funding for public financing of appellate judicial elections, a pioneering reform to protect courts from special interest influence, the House gave final approval  to a major voting changes bill. It formally repeals the public financing law, according to a WRAL news report.

At Huffington Post, Adam Smith of Public Campaign wrote, “The repeal of a popular public financing program defies common sense, but it also defies the people who have actually used it. In June, 14 of the 15 members of the Court of Appeals urged the legislature to maintain the system.”

In addition, the Republican-controlled legislature voted separately to  give the governor more authority and let him appoint whomever he chooses for District Court judgeships, eliminating a requirement that such vacancies must be filled from lists of candidates chosen by the local bar. Read more

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Final Budget in N.C. Would Kill Public Financing Program

North Carolina’s legislature approved on Wednesday a $20.6 billion budget and sent it to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature. The final version, like initial versions passed in each chamber, would kill the state’s pioneering public financing program for judicial elections, according to The Voter Update, an online magazine of the N.C. Center for Voter Education.

Justice at Stake was among groups lending support to preserving the popular program. After both legislative chambers passed respective budget plans that would effectively kill the program, JAS Acting Executive Director Liz Seaton said:

“[T]he real losers will be North Carolina residents, who made it clear in a recent poll that they are disinclined to support legislators who favor a bigger role for money in judicial elections. Now the people face the loss of a clean-elections program that helped insulate their judges from the influence of moneyed special interests. The politicians who decided to eliminate this program are disregarding the will of the people they were elected to represent, as well as ignoring the potentially disastrous effects of large sums of private money that will inevitably flow into the state’s justice system.”

The N.C. Center for Voter Education is a JAS partner organization.

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Commentary: NC Legislature Makes 'Hollow Shell' of Public Financing

The looming “destruction” of North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial elections is one more unfortunate step taken by the state legislature this year to retreat from successful and progressive policies, editorial board member Dorothy Samuels writes in a New York Times blog.

Gavel Grab has chronicled budget versions passed by each chamber in the legislature that would effectively kill the pioneering and popular public financing program, aimed at protecting state courts from the influence of special interest spending. Samuels quotes Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice, a Justice at Stake partner group, as documenting the program’s impact:

“In 2002, the last year without public financing, 73 percent of campaign funds for judicial candidates came from attorneys and special interest groups,” Bannon wrote in a state newspaper op-ed.  “After public financing was introduced in 2004, that number dropped to 14 percent.  Last year, every single candidate for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opted to receive public financing.” Read more

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Commentary: Ending Public Financing Moves Toward 'Corruption'

Two defenders of North Carolina’s public financing program for appellate judicial candidates argue in a (Raleigh) News & Observer op-ed for its preservation, saying the state must not “put [its] judicial seats up to the highest bidder.”

Critics are working in the state legislature to eliminate the program, and both chambers have approved budget plans that would effectively kill it. But Paul Carrington, a Duke law professor, and H. Parks Helms, a lawyer and former legislator, contend in the op-ed that it has generally worked well to insulate appellate courts from the influence of special interest spending.

“[F]or judicial office-seekers whose job is to listen to claims and defenses of litigants with open minds, campaign funding must be controlled,” they write. “North Carolina began electing judges with its 1868 state constitution, and its judiciary has not been corrupted with money – yet. But that statement cannot be made with respect to numerous other states that elect judges with big money campaigns.”

They conclude,  “For our legislature simply to abolish public funding would be a step favoring judicial corruption.” 

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Law Scholar Finds N.C. Public Financing Program 'Indispensable'

North Carolina’s embattled law for public financing of judicial elections “is indispensable to public confidence in our state’s judiciary,” Paul Carrington (photo), a Duke law professor a former dean of Duke’s law school, says in a Herald-Sun op-ed.

The op-ed is entitled, “Public funding: Why N.C. courts aren’t for sale.” In it, Carrington delves further into case law cited by Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director, as rendering unconstitutional the use of attorneys’ fees for the public financing program. Gavel Grab mentioned earlier an op-ed in which the author disputed Pope’s characterization of the case as flat wrong.

According to Carrington, the 2009 Wake County Superior Court ruling “lends no support to Pope’s contention, and no appeal was taken from his ruling to a higher state court.” Read more

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New Chapter in Saga About N.C. Public Financing Amendment

There’s a new chapter in the saga about a North Carolina legislator withdrawing his compromise amendment to preserve the state’s public financing program for appellate court candidates.

According to a Charlotte Observer op-ed, Rep. Jonathan Jordan withdrew his amendment after receiving misinformation from Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director, Art Pope (photo at left).

Jordan’s amendment would have funded the program only through attorneys fees, while eliminating another funding stream — from a check-off on state income tax forms. He withdrew it after talking in person with Pope. Jordan said Pope informed him that not only would McCrory not accept any public campaign financing, but that use of attorneys fees for the purpose would be unconstitutional, a view Pope claimed was backed by case law (see Gavel Grab).

That assertion is disputed by Billy Corriher, associate director of research for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress, in the newspaper op-ed. Corriher writes that Pope gave Jordan “wrong information”:

“The 2009 court ruling Pope cited actually said the $50 fee is constitutional, although attorneys must have the option of designating their payment to support only the voter guide, not the campaign grants. In practice, most attorneys let their $50 be used for both the guide and grants.” Read more

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Judge: Public Financing Means 'A Much Better Way' to Seek Election

In North Carolina, an appellate judge has spoken out in support of the state’s embattled public financing program for judicial candidates, saying it helps preserve a judiciary that is fair and independent.

“I’m not a politician. I’m just a judge who loves my job,” said N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Wanda Bryant (photo), according to a Star News article about the legislature working to terminate the public financing program.

“If I have to campaign, this is a much better way to do it, to have some sort of judiciary not beholden to big money influence. This program ensures there can be confidence that people are running on a level playing field.”

Added Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a Justice at Stake partner organization, “It’s a big loss.” He explained, “The average person doesn’t pay much attention to how judges get on the bench but it has played an important role in helping our judges be independent … and not feel like special interest groups were looking over their shoulder and would clobber them in the next election.” Read more

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Article Examines Factors in Withdrawn Bid to Save NC Public Financing

A legislator who sought to rescue North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial elections with a House amendment, which he subsequently withdrew, has explained what happened behind the scenes.

Last week, there were media reports that Republican Rep. Jonathan Jordan (photo) sponsored an amendment that would have funded the program only through attorneys fees, while eliminating another funding stream — from a check-off on state income tax forms (see Gavel Grab). After Jordan was spotted in conversation with Art Pope, the governor’s budget director, outside the House chamber, the legislator withdrew his amendment and the House proceeded to a vote to eliminate funding for the program.

This week, Jordan talked to the Jefferson Post newspaper. He had gone to bat for two clean-election groups, Common Cause and the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, to craft the compromise amendment, Jordan said. “I do see the difference in public campaign finance for judicial races versus special interest and corporate money,” he explained.

Jordan said the groups indicated to him there was tacit approval by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, for the middle-road amendment. Then he ran into stiff resistance on the House floor. He  also had the visit with Pope, who Jordan said informed him that not only would McCrory not accept any public campaign financing, but that use of attorneys fees for the purpose would be unconstitutional, a view Pope claimed was backed by case law.

“I felt left out in the wind,” Jordan told the newspaper. He decided not to pursue his amendment. Read more

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Editorial: Ending Public Financing of Judicial Elections is 'Grievous'

With North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial elections facing its death in the legislature, a (Raleigh) News & Observer editorial defended the program. It also condemned the increasingly powerful role in the state of budget director Art Pope, who reportedly influenced a House vote to kill the program.

To learn about the role played by Pope, see Gavel Grab. The News & Observer editorial was headlined, “Democracy undone by ending funding for NC court races,” and it commended the public financing program:

“Taking public funding away from judicial races is particularly grievous. The public knows it’s unhealthy to have judges elected primarily through contributions from those who have business before them. That’s why the public overwhelmingly favors the state program that provides public funding for candidates running for the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. Last month, a poll by SurveyUSA found 68 percent of the state’s voters favor the program. Fourteen of the 15 Court of Appeals judges signed a letter supporting it.” Read more

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JAS: If Public Financing Dies, N.C. Residents Will Suffer a Real Loss

North Carolina legislators have cast another key vote to kill the state’s successful public financing program for appellate judicial candidates, and “the real losers will be North Carolina residents” if the program dies, Justice at Stake warned on Friday.

The House voted in favor of a budget plan this week that effectively kills the public financing program, and the Senate approved earlier a budget version with a similar effect. In a statement, Liz Seaton, Justice at Stake’s acting executive director, said:

“This action by the House sets the stage for North Carolinians to lose their judicial public financing program, a popular program that is used by candidates for the appellate court bench from both political parties and that enjoys broad bipartisan support.  Even worse, there are reports that this House action appears to be the result of personal lobbying of legislators by the state budget director, Art Pope, who is a major campaign contributor to these lawmakers.  If correct, that means campaign donor political influence is being used to kill a judicial public financing program designed to prevent campaign donor pressure on judges.   Read more

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