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