Candidates for North Carolina’s Supreme Court have raised a record breaking $2.9 million in campaign funds this election cycle, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake of publicly available state campaign disclosure filings. This surpasses the record set in 2000 of $2.1 million, which happened before the state’s public financing program went into effect. No candidate participating in the public financing program, which ran from 2004–2012, ever raised more than $100,000.
This year, each of the eight candidates running in the general election for four open seats on North Carolina’s Supreme Court have raised more than $100,000, with six candidates each raising more than $300,000. Incumbent Robin Hudson has raised more than $700,000 in funds. Candidate fundraising figures are expected to grow when four of the eight candidates submit third quarter campaign financial disclosure forms later this week.
“What’s particularly alarming is that contributors to judicial campaigns may later appear before the very judges they paid to elect,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Public confidence in our courts is at risk.”
The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) also reportedly donated $400,000 this week to Justice for All North Carolina, a super PAC that aired ads aimed at ousting incumbent Justice Hudson during the primary. The RSLC contributed $900,000 to Justice for All North Carolina this past April to help fund those ads.
Much of the money the candidates have raised has been spent on TV advertising totaling $1,946,944 and RSLC’s latest contribution could be used for another ad blitz.
“It’s troubling that so much special interest money continues to be poured into judicial races across the country,” said Executive Director Bert Brandenburg of Justice at Stake.“What’s really worrisome is the ‘dark money’ that is being spent on television ads. There’s no way a sketchy television ad can inform a voter about a judge’s true qualifications.”
The high level of candidate fundraising is due, in part, to the repeal of the state’s public financing program in 2013. The program, in place for the 2004 to 2012 races, limited the amount of money candidates could raise, proportional to the Supreme Court candidate filing fee in a given year. In 2012, candidates could raise between $41,160 and $82,320. The program was widely popular; 75 percent of Supreme Court candidates chose to participate during its lifetime.
“In the final days before the election, we’re seeing an all-out money blitz in the judicial races,” said Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C. “The demise of North Carolina’s public financing program has forced judges to turn their campaigns into money machines, and outside special interest groups are unleashing hundreds of thousands of dollars more to influence the outcome. All of us who count on fair and impartial courts lose in the process.”
On November 4, Chief Justice Mike Martin will face Ola M. Lewis for a full eight year term. Justice Robin Hudson is opposed by Eric Levinson. Justice Robert N. Hunter Jr faces Sam Ervin IV, and Justice Cheri Beasley is opposed by Michael Robinson.
The last Supreme Court election in North Carolina took place in 2006 where candidates raised a total of $1.5 million, excluding public funds, to campaign for four open seats.
The following is a breakdown of candidate fundraising totals for the 2014 general election:
- Eric Levinson – $327,877
- Mark Martin – $362,658
- Robin Hudson – $704,092*
- Jeanette Doran (lost in primary) – $11,991.34
- Ola Lewis – $132,877
- Robert N. Hunter Jr. – $377,049*
- Sam Ervin – $359,183
- Cheri Beasley- $280,220*
- Michael Robinson – $375,595*
Total – $2,931,545
*Includes third quarter disclosure totals.