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Did Art Pope kill judicial public financing?

Art Pope played a pivotal role in killing legislation designed to keep big money from deciding high court races, an advocacy group asserts.

Pope, budget director for Gov. Pat McCrory and a major conservative political donor, was seen lobbying state Rep. Jonathan Jordan outside the House chambers Tuesday afternoon, after Jordan offered a compromise amendment that would have preserved public financing for appellate judges.

Shortly after speaking with Pope, Jordan withdrew the amendment, and the House voted to kill North Carolina's 10-year program of public financing, according to Melissa Price Kromm, director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, who witnessed the conversation.

Appeals court asks legislature to continue election public financing

Most of the N.C. Court of Appeals, including judges of both parties, has signed a letter urging retention of the current system of elections including non partisan elections and public financing.

Fourteen of the 15 appeals court judges signed a letter to Senate leader Phil Berger asking them to keep the current system.

“Despite our individual differences with respect to race, gender, political party, and judicial philosophy, we all agree that our current system of nonpartisan judicial elections supplemented by public financing is an effective and valuable tool for protecting public confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judiciary,” the judges write in their letter.

“Many of us have run under both the previous system of electing judges in partisan, privately financed elections and the present system, and from our experience we unanimously recommend the present system as preferable to the previous one,'' they write.

The only appeals court judge who did not sign it was Sanford Steelman.

Signing it were John C. Martin, Linda McGee, Robert C. Hunter, Wanda Bryant, Ann Marie Calabria, Rick Elmore, Martha Geer, Linda Stephens, Donna Stroud, Robert N. Hunter, Sam Ervin Douglas McCullough, Christopher Dillon, and Mark Davis.

Public financing for judges popular according to poll by GOP firm

A Republican-leaning polling firm has found strong support continuing public financing of judicial races in North Carolina.

Sixty-eight percent of those interviewed said they would be less likely likely to support a state legislator who “supported an electorate system where money would have a greater role in judicial elections,'' according to a survey by The Tarrance Group, which has worked for numerous GOP candidates including Sen. Jesse Helms.

The poll found that 70 percent were more likely to support public financing of judicial elections when they learn that it “has allowed women and minorities who don't have access to rich donors to compete and win seats on the court. In particular, 67 percent of GOP women were more likely to support the message, according to the poll.

The survey found that 61 percent were more likely to be supportive of public financing when they hear that “the current system should remain in place because even the hint of bribery is too much in in our judicial system.''

Hood: time to scrap public financing of judges and return party labels

John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, says its time for the legislature to scrap the system of public financing for appellate judges and restore party labels. His column can be found at "North Carolina policymakers will have a lot on their plate in 2013," Hood writes. "The General Assembly will tackle education reform, a rewrite of the state tax code, the unemployment-insurance debt, and other pressing issues. Gov. Pat McCrory will propose initiatives of his own, likely to include regulatory reform and changes to the budget process. Nevertheless, I hope they make time early in the 2013 legislative session to take care of a lingering legal problem: North Carolina’s unwise and unconstitutional system for electing members of the state’s appellate courts

'Stay strong, Pat' conservative group says in new campaign mailers

Americans for Prosperity is spending $130,000 to send a half million mailers touting Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory just days before the election.

The two fliers (see pdf links below) hit two issues that aren't being discussed much on the campaign trail: medical malpractice and public financing of campaigns.


Once again, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones breaks from his party

The U.S. House voted Thursday to end public financing of campaigns with all Republicans but one united in their support.

The one: Congressman Walter Jones of Farmville. Jones is an ardent support of public financing and wants more of it, not less. 

Republicans didn't need his vote, passing the bill 235-190. And it didn't matter anyway. The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate called it dead on arrival.

Interestingly, the bill would also cut off federal funding for party conventions, which would could affect Charlotte's production of the Democratic National Convention if approved. (The Charlotte convention organizers received about $17 million from the feds already this year.)

The rest of the North Carolina delegation broke along party lines for H.R. 3463. A similar bill (H.R. 359) passed the House in January in which Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler of Waynesville voted in favor of ending public financing. He voted against the similar measure Thursday.

Neither Jones' nor Shuler's office could be reached for comment. 

Public financing proponents respond to SBOE flights ruling

Proponents of public financing for political campaigns are pointing to the controversy over the State Board of Elections ruling on Gov. Bev Perdue's flights on private aircraft as an example of why voters should wholly own the electoral process. 

"The public demands that it’s leaders be extremely forthright in regards to how campaign funds are spent," said Damon Circosta, the executive director on the N.C. Center for Voter Education. "There is growing concern that our entire campaign finance system is broken."

The state elections board voted 4-1 to fine Perdue's campaign $30,000 on Tuesday for its failure to report 42 flights on private aircraft prior to the 2008 election. The fine was imposed after the board split down party lines, with the Democratic majority appointed by Perdue shooting down motions from Republicans to hold public hearings where members of the governor's staff could be questioned under oath.

Circosta pointed to the failure of a proposal to extend voter-owned elections during this year's legislative session to Council of State races. The measure had been unveiled by Democratic leaders as the centerpiece of a major ethics bill, paid for by relatively modest new fees on the businesses and firms regulated by the elected offices involved — attorney general, state treasurer, agriculture commissioner, labor commissioner and secretary of state.

Within hours of the bill's introduction, however, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity produced automated phone calls featuring Pat McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor and Republican nominee for governor in 2008. McCrory painted the proposed fees as a tax hike about to be imposed on businesses by Democrats.

Democrats quickly caved, and stripped out voter-owned elections from the ethics bill.

"It underscores the need for alternative financing programs that don’t give aircraft owners, who can loan their planes to candidates, a wing up on the rest of us when it comes to participating in our democracy," Circosta said of the fine against Perdue.

McCrory robocalls against public campaigns

The public campaigns portion of the Senate's ethics bill set Pat McCrory to calling.

McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor and Republican nominee for governor in 2008, recorded a robocall for Americans for Prosperity, which has worked against publicly financed campaigns.

The Senate bill would expand the program from three to eight Council of State offices using new fees levied against new businesses or professionals regulated by the offices affected.

McCrory pointedly calls these fees "taxes."

"With double digit unemployment in North Carolina we should not be raising taxes to fund political campaigns," McCrory says in the call, which is going out to Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters in eight Senate districts.

The call asks voters to call lawmakers about the issue.

Lawyers still have to pay

A Wake County Superior Court judge Monday upheld a $50 annual fee charged to attorneys to help pay for a public campaign financing fund, but he also gave them a bit more discretion in how the money can be spent.

Two attorneys, Catherine M. El-Khouri and W. Anthony Purcell, had sued the state over the fees, which are assessed through the North Carolina State Bar, Dan Kane reports.

The campaign fund pays for publicly-financed campaigns for state appellate judicial races and for a voter education guide. The attorneys had contended the fee represented a violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and was an impermissible tax. They sued in October 2007.

Judge Howard E. Manning Jr. found that the fee is legal, but he also granted attorneys the option of designating their $50 fee to the voter guide. That way, he said, they would not be paying into the campaigns of candidates that they don't like.

"Overall, it's a positive decision for continued funding of a program that Judge Manning says serves a compelling state interest," said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a nonprofit that supports public campaign financing.

He said the attorney fee generates $1.1 million annually, about half of the total funds for the judicial public financing program. The rest comes from a voluntary $3 check-off on the state income tax form.

Update: Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court judge who heads the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, also found plenty to like in Manning's decision. The institute had supported the lawyers' suit.

"From our perspective, the constitutional claim the suit was based on was upheld by the court," Orr said. "The remedy may be broader than we advocated for, but the underlying claim was upheld as unconstitutional. The $50 fee cannot go to candidates by fiat of the General Assembly."

Report likes state's public finance laws

A national research organization has published a report saying North Carolina has one of the best models of taxpayer-financed campaigns in the country.

The report examines a 2002 law that allows for publicly financed campaigns for state appellate court and Supreme Court seats. Candidates qualify for the program by raising a set number of small contributions in the primary and are then given funds for the general election.

In 2008, 31 of the 41 candidates for these seats received money from the program.

"North Carolina's judicial public financing program goes a long way to reducing the potentially corrupting influence of private contributions in judicial elections," said Jessica Levinson, the center's director or political reform, in a press release.

The Center for Governmental Studies, a non-partisan research group, published the report. The center also has released reports on other public financing laws in other states, including Florida, New Jersey and Minnesota.

While the report says the N.C. law is strong, it makes suggestions on how to improve the it.

The report's suggestions after the jump.

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