Federal Court Upholds Groundbreaking Campaign Finance Reform Law in North Carolina

March 30, 2007

For Immediate Release
Friday, March 30, 2007

Contact
Jonathan Rosen or Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (646) 452-5637

Federal Court Upholds Groundbreaking Campaign Finance Reform Law in North Carolina
Ruling Upholds Nation’s First Public Financing System for Statewide Judicial Elections

Raleigh – Today, in a ruling
with potential implications for judicial elections across the country,
a federal judge in North Carolina upheld the nation’s first and only
full public financing system for statewide judicial elections, based on
the reasoning in his October 2006 order.

The
ruling, by Judge W. Earl Britt of the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of North Carolina, upholds a groundbreaking campaign
finance reform program aimed at taking special interest money out of
appellate judicial elections in North Carolina and is expected to spur
efforts to enact similar proposals in other states. State legislatures
in Illinois, Montana and New Mexico are currently considering full or
partial public financing of appellate court elections in their states.
Washington State also considered a similar proposal this year.

“Across
the country trial lawyers, big business and other special interests are
spending big money to elect their favored candidates to some of our
state’s highest courts. As a result, we see increasing evidence that
voters are losing faith in the notion that justice is really blind,”
said Suzanne Novak, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Novak and the Brennan Center defended North Carolina’s law in this case
on behalf of North Carolina Common Cause and Ronnie Ansley, a trial
attorney from Wake Forest who ran unsuccessfully for the North Carolina
Supreme Court in 2004.

“North Carolina’s system is a model for
any state seeking to rein in out-of-control judicial campaigns. We hope
with today’s ruling state legislatures across the country will decide
to follow suit,” continued Novak.

“Today’s decision means that
North Carolina will continue to ensure that special interest money
stops at the courthouse steps,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director
of Common Cause North Carolina.

In 2002, North Carolina
enacted a voluntary full public financing program for candidates
running for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North
Carolina Court of Appeals. Under the program, known as the North
Carolina Public Campaign Financing Fund, candidates for appellate
courts who collect qualifying contributions in amounts ranging from $10
- $500 from at least 350 registered voters receive public funds for
their campaign. The program is funded with annual $50 contributions
from active members of the North Carolina State Bar and an optional $3
check-off on state income tax returns.

In 2004, 12 of 16
candidates for the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina
Court of Appeals (including four of the five winners) opted into the
public financing system – forgoing private campaign money beyond their
initial qualifying contributions. According to an analysis by the North
Carolina State Court system, public funds made up 64% of the financing
in those races. In 2006, eight of 12 candidates took part in the Public
Campaign Fund, with five of six winners participating in the program.

Four
plaintiffs, including two judges - Barbara Jackson, a sitting judge on
the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Wilton R. “Rusty” Duke, a North
Carolina Superior Court judge who ran unsuccessfully for the Supreme
Court in 2006 - and the North Carolina Right to Life Committee Fund for
Independent Political Expenditures (“IEPAC”), and North Carolina Right
to Life State Political Action Committee (“SPAC”) sued to strike down
the law. The plaintiffs challenged the law’s disclosure requirements,
the source of funds for the public financing program, a rule
prohibiting any contributions in the 21 days proceeding an election, as
well as a provision in the law granting participants in the public
financing system extra campaign funds to counter spending by a
candidate not participating in the program or an organization engaged
in an independent expenditure campaign against the participating
candidate or on behalf of their opponent.

In addition to its
work in North Carolina, the Brennan Center has successfully defended
state public financing laws in Arizona and Maine and is currently
defending Connecticut’s public campaign finance program.

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