Campaign Finance

 Following is a commentary I wrote and recorded for Chapelboro regarding the upcoming November elections.  Of particular concern to me were the judicial elections.  Despite the advent of public financing, it was apparent that “big money” was being spent to influence the judicial elections as a result of the United States Supreme Court Citizens United decision.

It is election time, and we should all have great concern about how little the voters know about our appellate judicial candidates.  Studies have shown that people sometimes vote for certain candidates based simply on their gender or their name.

In our one North Carolina Supreme Court race, a new Super PAC has spent more than $800,000 to try to keep conservative Justice Paul Newby on the court.  Newby is being challenged by North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV.  If Judge Ervin wins, the philosophical bent on the court will likely shift.

Newby has stated that he is not bothered by unlimited spending by PACs in elections, because this supports a “free speech” concept and helps people learn about the candidates. Democracy N.C. has said that “this is not free speech, it is purchased speech.”  Ervin has stated that he worries this excess of outside money will erode the public’s confidence in the judiciary.   By the way, if you have a chance, find the Newby banjo ad on the web and watch it.  I like banjo music, but I am not sure what “being tough on crime” has to do with applying the law as an appellate judge!

As for the remaining appellate races, there are three incumbents running for re-election to the Court of Appeals:  Judges Linda McGee, Wanda Bryant and Cressie Thigpen.  These judges bring diversity, as well as – in my opinion – years of sound appellate experience to the bench.

In North Carolina, appellate judges run state-wide – a monumental task – without a party affiliation on the ballot.  This means that voters need to be educated about these judicial elections, arguably the most important elections in our state.  These courts issue decisions that affect North Carolinians on a daily basis.  Visit the candidate and party web sites, read the Public Funding Voter Guide that you received in the mail, talk to attorneys you know, read the endorsements of groups you trust.

Please be an informed voter and inform others.

Here is a link  to a recent article in The Carrboro Citizen about the Carrboro campaign finance bill that was authorized on July 14, 2008:

I have been supporting and advocating for a proposed Carrboro campaign regulation bill as of late. The BOA unanimously presented this to the legislative delegation last year, and we did so again this year. The Senate approved it last summer during the long session, and the bill has been considered by the House this week. I understand the bill may be modified slightly from the Senate version.

Passage of this bill would establish enabling legislation, which would then allow the Board to have a hearing, receive public input, and then consider whether or how to adopt any campaign regulation ordinance. Having this bill passed is the first step toward ultimately crafting an ordinance.

The bill will give Carrboro the authority to limit campaign contributions. Our bill is modeled after a Chapel Hill bill that has been successfully implemented over the past few election cycles. Chapel Hill limits individual contributions to a maximum of $250. This has proved to be a workable number for their elections. Note that the candidate and his/her family members are exempt from such regulations. Public input at the hearing would help us determine what we would do in Carrboro.

I have received inquiries regarding any minimum amount we would consider setting for disclosure. State law now requires the disclosure of all donors over $50 or more, and we think that is adequate. I have also been asked why the bill only applies to in-state donors (as it currently reads, it does not apply to out-of-state donors). The answer is that we did want to include out-of-state donors, and we had it as part of our original bill. Someone at the General Assembly took it out; I was told that it was believed to be in conflict with federal election law. Representative Verla Insko is working to see if this can be resolved definitively so that we can have the bill apply to all donors.

As many of you know, I voluntarily limited my contributions to $100 during my race, and did not accept any PAC money. Several other area candidates did or do so as well. Carrboro races to date have all been fairly low-cost affairs, and this act is a way to memorialize what the practice has been. This is a progressive campaign finance policy, much like the public financing programs at the state level for the appellate judicial races, and much like reform that is needed at the national level.