Gavel Grab

NC's Judicial Funding Program Goes to Court…Again

Oral arguments are being heard this week in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding North Carolina’s Judicial Public Campaign program. The lawsuit (Duke v. Leake) challenges several provisions of the program, which provides public financing to state appellate court candidates who agree to limit their fundraising.

What is not being directly challenged in this case is the constitutionality of the program itself. Public financing programs like the North Carolina model pass First Amendment muster because they are voluntary and available to any candidate who chooses to opt-in to the program.

What is at issue in this case is the constitutionality of several of the tenets of the program including the disbursement of matching funds, a 21-day ban on certain expenditures and the reporting requirements for candidates who choose not to participate in the program.

Far be it from me to prognosticate what the Fourth Circuit will do, but the organizations that work on election reform in NC (like the NC Center for Voter Education) are hopeful that the Court will see what is going on here. Without getting too wonky (still trying to figure out the tone of this forum) this appeal seeks to chip away at a few provisions of the program because previous attempts in other forums to strike down public financing programs as a whole have failed.

Nevertheless, these provisions are important. All of them were designed to ensure that NC’s public financing program would be able to effectively limit even the appearance of corruption. Several Justice at Stake partners are heavily involved in this case and are here in NC participating in oral arguments. I’m hoping they will post observations as they come in. If I get any news I’ll share it here on the Gavel Grab.

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