The super PAC that produced the attack ad against Judge Sam Ervin IV on Friday is responding to criticism that the negative spot crossed a line that hasn’t been crossed before in North Carolina judicial elections.
Financed in large part by a national Republican Party group, the independent expenditure committee called Justice for All N.C. bought a TV ad that makes three claims: Ervin and his relatives made campaign contributions to “convicted felon” Mike Easley, who appointed him to the state Utilities Commission, where Ervin raised utility rates.
The group issued a statement Saturday saying Ervin declares in his own TV ad there is no place in the courts for partisan politics or ideology. The statement says Ervin has accused the independent expenditure committees who have raised at least $2.5 million on his behalf of trying to buy a seat on the state Supreme Court, where Justice Paul Newby is the incumbent.
Saturday’s statement also includes a link to WTVD footage of Gov. Bev Perdue whispering to Ervin at a breakfast during the Democratic National Convention, “Let’s kick their asses.”
“Voters should know that Ervin’s record does not match his words,” the statement says. “… He accepted an appointment to the state Utilities Commission by a governor whose campaign he and his family supported financially. He should explain then how this financial support of a candidate who appointed him to a seat on the Utilities Commission is not ‘buying a seat’ on the Utilities Commission. He cannot have it both ways. …
“Our TV ad accurately reflects the facts, even if they make Sam Ervin IV uncomfortable.”
After the ad began airing in the Triad on Friday, Ervin called a news conference to denounce the spot. He said the campaign contributions to Easley were made when he was attorney general. It was Gov. Jim Hunt who appointed Ervin to the Utilities Commission, and Easley later reappointed him.
Easley pleaded guilty in 2010 to a felony count related to his failure to report a flight on his campaign finance report.
Appointments to many state political positions are tied to fundraising. That’s the way it works, including for the current Republican majority running the General Assembly.
Traditionally, elections to the appellate division have been more circumspect. This year, thanks to federal court rulings and a Federal Elections Commission decision, newly defined super PACs can raise and spend unlimited money to support or oppose candidates, so long as they don’t coordinate with the candidates.
Newby and Ervin both accepted about $240,000 in public financing, which is meant to limit outside influence on judicial elections. But the appearance of the new super PACs on the political scene have made the public financing scheme almost quaint, considering the millions of dollars going into the Newby effort.
The N.C. Center for Voter Education and a group of lawyers and former judges have expressed concern about the impact of all that money on the public’s perception of judges as impartial, and on the potential to undermine public financing.