Governor Mike Easley Signs Judicial Campaign Reform Act
From: Jesse Rutledge of the NC Center for Voter Education, 919-839-1200 or 919-656-0877 (mobile)
RALEIGH, N.C., Oct. 10 -- On Thursday, campaign reform groups from across the state and country celebrated a major victory when North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed into law the Judicial Campaign Reform Act at a public ceremony in Raleigh. The new law makes North Carolina the first state in the nation to offer full public funding to qualified appellate-lev el judicial candidates who agree to adhere to strict fundraising and campaign spending limits.
"The governor's signature on this important new law marks today as the day when North Carolinians can begin to renew their faith in their state government," said Former US Senator Robert Morgan, now chairman of the NC Center for Voter Education. "Much work remains to be done on campaign finance reform, but for today we can celebrate a victory for the people over the special interests."
The Judicial Campaign Reform Act contain four major elements: -- Full public financing in the general election for qualified candidates who agree to fundraising and spending limits -- A shift to nonpartisan elections, similar to the system used at the trial court level -- A reduction in the individual contribution limit to all appellate-level judicial candidates to $1,000 (from $4,000) -- Creation of a state voter guide with information about appellate-level judicial candidates
All of the reforms will take effect in the 2004 election cycle and will have no impact on the seven appellate-level judicial elections on the ballot in November 2002.
"Credit goes not just to the may reform groups who labored for years to bring public financing to North Carolina, but also to the legislators who voted to improve our method of judicial selection," Morgan continued. He singled out Senators Wib Gulley and Allen Wellons, as well as Speaker Jim Black and Representatives Bill Culpepper, Phil Baddour and Martha Alexander for their work in spearheading the initiative and shepherding the bill through the General Assembly.
"This law gives ordinary citizens the chance to play on the same field as special interests and wealthy donors," added Judge James Andrew Wynn, Jr. of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. "That will mean more public confidence and trust in the integrity of our courts."
"North Carolina makes history today as the first state to create a viable alternative electoral system for state appellate judges," said A.P. Carlton, President of the American Bar Association. "This new law potentially removes appellate judges from serious fundraising and eliminates the perception that justice may be for sale." In February, the ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution urging states to consider public financing of judicial elections.
Across the country, 87 percent of state judges, in 39 states, face some sort of election. North Carolina will become the first state in the nation to offer full public financing for its top courts, amid increasing concerns that many state judges face election systems laden with pitfalls that could potentially compromise their appearance of fairness and impartiality.
A public opinion survey commissioned by the NC Center for Voter Education in the Spring of 2002 found that 70 percent of North Carolinians favor the reform package, with uniform support from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Over 1,000 attorneys across the state, including the current and 12 immediate past presidents of the North Carolina State Bar, and retired members of the NC Supreme Court, signed support statements for the public financing reform proposal.
The governor's action was cheered by a broad coalition of groups and individuals that championed the reform effort. The N.C. Voters for Clean Elections coalition that worked to create public awareness about the need for reforming judicial elections included among its members: the N.C. League of Women Voters, N.C. Center for Voter Education, Democracy South, and Common Cause. Other coalition members endorsing the reform proposal included: the Baptist State Convention's Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs, the Business and Professional Women of N.C., the Covenant With North Carolina's Children, the NAACP of North Carolina, the N.C. Association of Educators, the N.C. Council of Churches, the N.C. Conservation Council, N.C. Public Interest Research Group, Taxpayers for Accountable Government, and the United Methodist Church Board of Church and Society
Electronic press kits and photos of today's signing ceremony are available by contacting Jesse Rutledge at Rutledge@ncvotered.com or 919-839-1200.