Gavel Grab

North Carolina May Consider Ending Public Financing Plan

Some North Carolina legislators have proposed ending the state’s pioneering public financing program for judicial campaigns. It’s the wrong way to go, Jim Buchanan, Asheville Citizen-Times editorial page editor, writes in a commentary.

All eight appellate court candidates participated in the program in the 2012 court election cycle, and the program has enjoyed bipartisan backing and broad participation, Buchanan says. Alluding to special-interest funds that were poured into the 2012 state Supreme Court election, Buchanan suggests:

“Just because a judicial candidate receives bushels of money doesn’t guarantee a judge will rule in favor of the interests giving that money. But it sure increases the odds.”

Buchanan cites a famous judicial campaign case from West Virginia, Caperton v. Massey, that spotlighted the way big-money financial support for a judicial candidate can raise questions about fair and impartial courts. In concluding, he endorses a remark by Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, a JAS partner group:

“Regardless of what you think is the best way to select judges, as long as they are elected, they need a source of ‘clean’ campaign funds to maintain their independence.”

North Carolina became the first state, in 2002, to provide full public financing for judicial campaigns. The state’s program has been considered a model for other states interested in public financing as a reform tool to protect fair and impartial courts.

A Carolina Journal article, meanwhile, was headlined, “Bills Would Restore Party Labels to Judicial Races.”

On Wednesday, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg will participate in a 9 a.m. discussion on North Carolina Public Radio about different systems for choosing judges.

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