Ruling overturns part of NC public financing law

Posted May 22, 2012

— A federal district court struck down a public campaign financing rule for North Carolina judicial elections last week. However, the ruling won't change the rules for those running for the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court this year.

In a ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan said the state cannot offer rescue funds to judicial candidates.

Under state public financing laws, candidates for certain offices can raise a number of small dollar donations. Once they reach certain thresholds, the candidates receive a lump-sum payment to run the rest of their campaign in exchange for a promise to abide by fundraising and spending limits. The public financing system was supposed to remove big-money from politics.

In some cases, however, a publicly financed candidate will run up against opposition that can vastly out-spend the amount given under public financing. For those cases, North Carolina allowed for rescue funds to bail out candidates.

But other federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Courts have recently ruled such bailout funds an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech rights of people opposing the candidate who gets the rescue funds.

Even before Flanagan ruled, the State Board of Elections had told judicial candidates that rescue funds would not be available this year based on prior court rulings.

"Our campaign finance office has made sure all candidates for appellate judicial office and for the Council of State seats who are interested in public funding are informed that rescue funds will not be available," Wright said.

Despite the point being somewhat academic at this point, the state will likely have to repeal the law. 

James Bopp, Jr., a lawyer for North Carolina Right to Life, which brought the case, hailed the ruling as victory. 

"North Carolina Right to Life can finally participate in judicial elections without worrying that their speech will fund a candidate they oppose. The federal court rightly saw that the Supreme Court's recent ruling required it to strike down the scheme once and for all," Bopp said. 


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