Monday, November 14, 2011, 2:00 PM

Matching Funds Provision of Judicial Campaign Financing Program May Be Repealed

We previously mentioned that North Carolina Right to Life PAC filed a lawsuit seeking to have North Carolina's system of providing matching funds to judicial candidates who participate in public financing declared unconstitutional.  A recent filing by the State of North Carolina indicates that the case may come to an end much sooner than anyone anticipated. 

Today, the State of North Carolina filed its Second Motion for Extension of Time to respond to NC Right to Life PAC's Complaint.  While the filing of such a motion is fairly routine, the State's reason for seeking an extension in this case is not.  

According to the State's Motion, on July 21, 2011, Gary Bartlett, the Executive Director of the State Board of Elections wrote a letter to the John Locke Foundation stating that a matching funds provision utilized by the Town of Chapel Hill should not be implemented.  Chapel Hill's matching funds provision was very similar to the one challenged by NC Right to Life PAC.  The State Board of Elections subsequently removed the matching funds provisions from the Town of Chapel Hill's campaign finance guidelines. 

Finally, and most importantly, the State reported that "Mr. Bartlett has met with leaders of the General Assembly and requested that the matching funds provision for the public financing of appellate judicial elections and the concomitant reporting requirements be repealed."  The State indicated that it has "been informed by legislative leadership that repeal of the statutes will be take up at [the General Assembly's] November 27, 2011 session."

The repeal of the matching funds provision and the reporting requirements would most likely moot NC Right to Life PAC's case and deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction to hear the matter.  While the case would end without a judgment in NC Right to Life PAC's favor, a complete repeal of the matching funds provision would be the functional equivalent of a victory on the merits. 

The repeal of these provisions would also present serious questions regarding the viability of North Carolina's system of public financing for judicial elections.  The public financing system, and the fundraising and spending restrictions that come with it, may seem less appealing to judicial candidates if they cannot receive the matching funds for money spent by privately financed opponents or third parties.  It will be interesting to see how the General Assembly proceeds on the issue of repeal and what it does, if anything, to incentivize judicial candidates to participate in the public financing system in the absence of matching funds.


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