ABOVE: Former North Carolina governors Jim Hunt (D) and Jim Holshouser (R) voice their support for the Public Campaign Fund
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N.C. Public Campaign Fund
Protecting the integrity of North Carolina's courts
An overwhelming 94 percent of North Carolina voters believe campaign contributions can sway a judge's ruling, according to a 2011 poll from the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education.
In 2002, the N.C. Public Campaign Fund was created in order to protect voter confidence in the courts and free judicial candidates from having to raise money from the attorneys and special interests that may stand before them in court one day.
What the Public Campaign Fund Does
The Public Campaign Fund protects the integrity of elections for the N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Courts of Appeals by:
- offering public campaign financing to court candidates who agree to strict fund raising and spending limits and who reject special interest money
- producing a nonpartisan judicial voter guide, mailed to voters across the state in the weeks before Election Day.
How the Program is Funded
The program is funded through a voluntary check-off option on the state income tax form, in which North Carolinians can choose to designate $3 of the taxes they are already paying and direct those funds to the judicial program. Marking "yes" to the option does not increase taxes or reduce a person's refund. Additionally, attorneys in North Carolina pay a $50 surcharge to support the program.
How Candidates Qualify
In order to qualify for the public financing program, a candidate for the state Supreme Court or Court of Appeals must first raise donations of $10-$500 from at least 350 registered North Carolina voters, totaling $39,450. Qualifying candidates then stop fund raising and receive public funds for their campaign, allowing them to spend less time contacting donors and more time reaching out to voters.
The Public Campaign Fund Makes a Difference
Since it was first made available in 2004, 80 percent of candidates have participated in the program, including all eight candidates in 2012.
The Public Campaign Fund has been a clear success in reducing the influence of special interest influence in court elections. In 2002, the last election in which the public financing option was not available, 73 percent of non-family contributions to state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals candidates came from attorneys, interest groups or political committees. In 2004, that figure fell dramatically to just 14 percent for those candidates that opted into the public financing program.
Empowering Voters with Facts About the Candidates
Research from the N.C. Center for Voter Education shows that the number one reason why North Carolina voters don't go to the polls is because they don't know enough about the candidates to cast an informed ballot.
To empower voters with facts on the candidates for the N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, the Public Campaign Fund pays for a nonpartisan voter guide, produced by the State Board of Elections.
The guide includes informative profiles on all appellate court candidates and is mailed to the homes of voters throughout the state in the weeks before Election Day.
Strong Public Support for the Program
The Public Campaign Fund enjoys strong support among voters. A 2011 poll from the N.C. Center for Voter Education finds that 49 percent of voters say they would be less likely to support a legislative candidate who wants to eliminate the program. Only 20 percent of voters say they would be more likely to favor a candidate who sought to end the program.
That trend holds across party lines, with 45 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents saying they would be less likely to cast a ballot for legislative candidates who wish to eliminate the judicial public financing program.
According to the poll, 48 percent of voters say that public campaign financing reduces the potential for corruption in the courts. Just 25 percent say it makes no difference and 27 percent are unsure.
The program has enjoyed bipartisan support from citizens and such prominent North Carolinians as former governors Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Holshouser, a Republican. National campaign finance reformers have applauded North Carolina's innovative program, including Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain.
You Can Support Fair & Independent Courts
You can help protect the integrity of our courts, while empowering voters with facts on court candidates, by marking "yes" to the N.C. Public Campaign Fund on your state income tax form. It won't increase your taxes or reduce your refund, and it will make a real difference for North Carolina.