A fundraising e-mail from the N.C. Democratic Party today caught our attention this morning:
"During the 2008 election cycle the General Assembly made available Public Funds for several Council of State Offices. These Public Funds allow candidates to concentrate on getting out their message AND prevents special interests from "buying" an election.
"For the 2012 Election cycle there are again, public funds available; however, this information has just recently been made available. That means the time to qualify is short!!"
We couldn't remember any recent changes to the public campaign financing program so we called up the party to ask what they thought was new. Spokesman Walton Robinson said the Board of Elections recently set the parameters for how money will be distributed this year.
So we called over to the board to ask what was up.
Deputy Director Kim Strach said several candidates have inquired recently about the rules, but that the distributions are set by law.
The state first funded a voter-owned elections pilot in 2008 for candidates running for state auditor, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction. To qualify for taxpayer help, candidates have to raise 750 donations of between $10 and $200 to raise at least $29,975, Strach said. If they then pledged to restrict their own fundraising and spending, qualifying candidate could then get taxpayer funds to run their campaigns.
At the time, the program was hailed by campaign finance reform advocates as a way to get big money interests out of politics.
But those were more flush times for state coffers. In the effort to curtail spending this year, lawmakers didn't put any new money into the program. So state election officials only have $500,000 leftover from 2008 to distribute. That's not a lot when a single candidate would typically qualify for around $300,000 in public financing.
"If we have multiple people certified, we'd then have to pro-rate it," Strach said. Each candidate would get a share of the funds, she said, calculated based on the number who qualify and how much a winning candidate spent in the last three campaigns.
Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat and the incumbent candidate for Insurance Commissioner, has opted out of the public financing program, Robinson said. That's because he expects a tough, and well-funded, challenge from Republicans.
However Democratic incumbents June Atkinson, superintendent of public instruction, and Beth Wood, state auditor, are hoping to raise the money needed to qualify for the albeit diminished public matching fund. And that effort sparked the fundraising e-mail from the Democrats today, Robinson said.