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N.C. suit filed over judicial-campaign finance

By The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — A lawsuit filed yesterday contends that North Carolina's public financing system for judicial races limits free speech and puts candidates who don't participate at a disadvantage.

The voluntary finance program provides public dollars to candidates for the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court who agree to restrictions on donations by outside contributors.

Held up as a national model by campaign-reform groups to reduce the influence of big money on the judiciary, the program distributed $1.5 million to 12 Supreme Court and Court of Appeals candidates in 2004, the first time the method was used.

The federal suit was filed by Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Jackson, who was elected last November, and North Carolina Right-to-Life, an anti-abortion group.

Provisions in the 2002 law that barred Jackson from receiving donations and Right-to-Life from making donations 21 days before Election Day violated their First Amendment rights, they contend in the lawsuit.

Jackson intended to participate in the public financing program, but she failed to receive enough small "qualifying contributions" before the July 2004 primary. Otherwise, she would have received $137,500 in public funds.

The incumbent whom Jackson defeated despite being outspent more than 5-to-1 did participate in the public financing program, prompting the 21-day ban upon Jackson's campaign.

Jackson said she had to turn away checks in the campaign's final days even though she didn't have as much money as her opponent.

"That had a real strong chilling effect on free speech," she said in an interview.

The defendants in the case include members of the State Board of Elections, which carries out election law, and Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Cooper's office hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment.

Chris Heagarty with the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, which backed the 2002 law, said legislators carefully examined provisions leading up to passage.

"We feel the state can defend the fund against these charges," Heagarty said.


8th Circuit strikes down Minnesota's judicial-campaign rules

Full court finds regulations barring candidates from associating with political parties, personally soliciting campaign donations violate free speech. 08.03.05

Conn. legislators pass sweeping campaign-finance bill
Governor says he'll sign measure that places strict limits on contributions, creates publicly funded election system for all statewide races. 12.01.05

4th Circuit rules on N.C. campaign-finance laws
One three-judge panel strikes down rules on issue-oriented PACs and campaign contributions; another upholds state's public-financing system for appellate judges' elections. 05.02.08

Judicial campaign speech

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