Raleigh, N.C. — So much for the positive campaign in the state Supreme Court race.
Justice for All N.C., an independent spending group with ties to Republicans, has begun airing an attack on Sam Ervin IV, a Democrat running for state Supreme Court. Justice for All is one of a network of independent groups with ties to Republicans that is raising and spending money to support incumbent Paul Newby, a Republican.
Polls show the race for supreme court is close in the closing days of the election.
The best known ad of the campaign, the"banjo ad" on behalf of Newby, was aired by the N.C. Judicial Coalition, which is run by former state Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer. Fetzer's group has gotten money from Justice for All N.C., which is run by Amy Eillis, the sister of former state senator and one-time gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine.
Combined, the two committees are on pace to raise and spend somewhere between $2 million and $3 million. Justice for All NC reported receiving a $275,000 donation from the Republican State Leadership Committee on Oct. 29, bringing that GOP group's support up to $1.1 million for the election cycle. Lorillard Tobacco out of Greensboro chipped in another $25,000 on the same day.
Paperwork filed by at least one station in the Triad market indicates that Justice for All is airing the attack ad under its own banner. It's unclear where else, other than the Greensboro market, this ad may be running.
"Can we trust Sam Ervin IV to be a fair judge?" asks the ads narrator. "Ervin and his family gave thousands to convicted felon Mike Easley's campaign. Then, Easley appointed Ervin to a $100,000 a year state job on the utilities commission. There, Ervin voted to raise our rates by millions. High rates on electricity, water and gas. Sam Ervin IV. Can we trust him, to be a fair judge?"
Ervin has scheduled a 2:30 p.m. news conference to respond to the ad.
One its face, the ad doesn't appear to be outright false. However there are a couple things to keep in mind:
- Easley was governor when he re-appointed Ervin and was not a convicted felon at the time of the appointment. Easley's felony conviction stemmed from an unreported campaign flight.
- It is not unusual for Democratic or Republican governors to appoint campaign backers to positions. Ervin was appointed to the state utilities commission. In Ervin's case, he is the scion of a well-known political family that has long been involved in Democratic causes.
- Utility rate increases are generally requested by regulated companies.
Update: Ervin points out that he was originally appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt and that Easley reappointed him after he had served seven years on the commission.
He calls the attack "desperate" and says it's the first time he can remember an attack ad airing in a North Carolina judicial race.
As for raising rates, Ervin said sometimes the commission votes to approve rate increases, sometimes they are turned down.
"There are specific statutes that say what they (utilities) have to do to achieve rate relief," he said. "The implication of that ad is the commission should disregard the law and make decisions that are politically popular."
He later called on Newby to reject the ad.
"I hope that my opponent and his supporters will publicly repudiate the last-minute, desperate attempt to sway voters," he said.