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North Carolina Gets High Marks For Judicial Elections

September 8, 2010

RALEIGH, N. C. - North Carolina leads the way when it comes to campaign finance reform on the bench, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

The study of judicial elections since 2000 is critical of most states, where judicial candidates have to raise money for their political campaigns. In North Carolina, however, judicial elections have been publicly financed since 2004.

Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, compares the state's old system to the one in place today.

"If you ran for judge, most of the money that came into your campaign account came from lawyers, who might have business before you. Now, that's not true anymore. That special interest money is much, much smaller."

North Carolina was the first state to publicly finance its judicial elections; now, others are following, including Wisconsin.

Nationwide, the report says judicial campaign fund-raising more than doubled, from $83 million in the 1990s to more than $206 million in this decade. Circosta says extreme levels of campaign spending are having a visible impact on states' elections across the country.

"Big money will flood a race, and it will paint a judge negatively – and left out will be an earnest discussion of the qualifications of any judge. And what comes in, is a very nasty campaign."

In the Tarheel State, public financing of judicial elections changed with the passage of the Judicial Reform Act seven years ago. The legislation also classified judicial elections as nonpartisan, and mandated that a voter guide be sent out to every registered voter for elections. Some in North Carolina are now advocating public funding of legislative elections, as well.

See the report online at www.brennancenter.org, or http://tiny.cc/mtldy.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC