Gavel Grab

JAS Spotlighted in Effort to Preserve NC Public Financing

As North Carolina’s governor and some legislators seek to dismantle the state’s pioneering program of public financing for appellate court candidates, Justice at Stake and some other national and local groups are working to preserve it, the Associated Press reported.

Defenders of the public financing program have pointed to its popularity — all eight candidates in nonpartisan appellate court races statewide last year participated — and to its importance in reducing any public perception that judges may be influenced by campaign donors.

Critics, on the other hand, contend that fiscal responsibility and limited government warrant junking the program. They also maintain that the program doesn’t provide a candidate enough funding for a serious general election campaign.

Only last week, a new law took effect in a different state — West Virginia — making permanent a pilot public financing program for Supreme Court candidates. To read more about that state’s action and Justice at Stake’s applauding it, click here for Gavel Grab.

Since the North Carolina program took effect in 2004, 80 percent of statewide judicial candidates have requested public financing, and several states (including West Virginia) have adopted similar programs. JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg underscored the North Carolina program’s overall success in an interview with the AP.

“Campaign reform is creating a web of deterrents to try to keep cash out of the courtroom and public financing has its place,” Brandenburg said. “But it can’t be expected to do the whole job by itself.” The article said  JAS and other groups are working “to build what they call strong public support for the program to halt its repeal.”

Former governors Jim Holshouser, a Republican, and Jim Hunt, a Democrat, have spoken out publicly for saving the program. The North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and JAS recently announced a collaborative effort to keep state courts free of political and special-interest pressure: Holshouser and  Hunt appear in an on-line video as part of that launch (see Gavel Grab).

A $50 required annual surcharge for licensed North Carolina attorneys pays for the program, along with proceeds from a voluntary check-off on state income tax returns.

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