A PROPOSAL TO ESTABLISH A VOTERS’ GUIDE FOR USE BY CANDIDATES FOR STATEWIDE JUDICIAL OFFICES IN NORTH CAROLINA
February 25, 2001
The undersigned propose that a Judicial Election Voters Guide be published by a new state agency to be known as the Judicial Election Campaigns Board. Its purpose is to assure that judicial elections are conducted in North Carolina in a manner consistent with the independence of the judiciary from undue influence or the appearance of undue influence by individuals or organizations funding campaigns. Our proposal is made in light of very serious problems experienced in other states in recent years and especially in the elections in 2000 that have cast unwarranted clouds of doubt about the integrity of the judiciary of many states. We remain open to suggestions for the improvement of our proposal.
The members of the new five-member Board we propose to create will consist of the presiding officer of the State Bar of North Carolina, one person appointed by the Governor, one by the Chief Justice of North Carolina, and one each by the presiding officers of the two houses of the legislature. The Board will be empowered to make rules governing participation in the Guide for the purpose of assuring that judicial elections in North Carolina are fair and open and untainted by the appearance of undue influence resulting from large campaign contributions and expenditures. The legislature will be committed to provide the funds necessary to conduct its program; because the program is partially self-funding, it is anticipated that the necessary appropriation will be modest. The provisions of the enabling legislation will include the following:
1. Form of Guide. The Guide will be published both as a printed document and in electronic form. In its printed form, the Guide will be made available to voters at no cost through public libraries and at the seat of each county government. It will be published in local newspapers in each county. In its audiotape form, it will be provided without charge to every radio station in North Carolina. In videotape form, it will be made available without charge to every North Carolina television station. It will also be made accessible in electronic form on a Campaign Board website that can be viewed by all persons having access to the Internet; website viewers will be able to view the videotaped oral statements included in the Guide.
2. Contents of Guide. The Guide shall include campaign materials of every candidate for the Supreme Court of North Carolina or the North Carolina Court of Appeals who qualifies for inclusion. Qualified candidates campaigning in the guide may present a written campaign statement not to exceed 500 words and a recorded campaign address not to exceed twenty minutes in length. The Guide shall also include a statement from the Campaign Board explaining the purpose of the Guide.
3. Qualifications of Judicial Candidates for Inclusion. There shall be two requirements imposed on candidates qualifying to campaign through the Guide. First, they shall secure contributions to the Board in their behalf from registered North Carolina voters in an aggregate amount specified by the Board but not exceeding in amount the annual salary of the person holding the office sought by the candidate. No one of these contributions may exceed one percent of that annual salary.
Second, each qualifying candidate must explicitly undertake to limit any additional expenditures on his or her campaign to a total sum for all costs exclusive of the candidate’s travel expenses not to exceed twice the annual salary of the office sought and to refuse any contribution exceeding one percent of that maximum amount. All contributions received and all expenditures incurred by participating candidates shall be reported to the Board immediately by electronic means and immediately published by the Board on its website.
4. Endorsements of Candidates. In addition to the campaign statements of the candidates, the Guide may contain endorsements by individuals, political parties or qualified organizations with whom the endorsed candidate has an agreement. An agreement between a candidate and an endorser shall include a provision for mutual responsibility for compliance with the rules of the Board.
5.Conditions of Endorsements. An endorsing individual, political party, or organization shall be required to pay a standard fee fixed by the Board, but no such required fee shall exceed one percent of the annual salary of the office sought by the endorsed candidate. To be qualified to publish an endorsement in the Guide, a political party or organization must demonstrate to the Board that it has had an existence independent of the candidate for at least two years preceding the election and that it has at least fifty members who are registered North Carolina voters. An endorsing party or organization must also agree to withhold any further financial support, direct or indirect, to the endorsed candidate’s campaign.
6. Additional Contents of Endorsement. An endorsing political party or organization may include a statement not to exceed fifty words and/or the results of a poll of its members. It may also include one oral statement not exceeding 30 seconds in length by any person who is a registered voter in North Carolina. The Board shall charge a fee for the inclusion of such additions sufficient to recover the costs associated with them.
7. Negative Campaigning: Right of Reply. No campaign statement and no endorsement published in the Guide shall contain allegations about an opposing candidate unless that candidate has been afforded an opportunity to respond in the Guide in which the allegations are made.
8. Non-participating Candidates. Candidates seeking statewide office who do not or cannot qualify to campaign in the Guide shall be listed in the Guide by name only.
9. Sanctions for Breach of Rules. If the Board finds that a candidate for judicial office or an endorser of that candidate has spent funds on a campaign in excess of the amount allowed by its rules promulgated under this law, it shall release to any rival candidate adversely affected by the illicit expenditure an amount equal to such excess. A material and not inadvertent breach of the Board’s rules by a candidate constitutes a serious breach of judicial ethics and shall be sufficient cause for the removal of the name of the offending candidate from the ballot and/or from judicial office. An endorser in breach of the Board’s rules shall be subject to a monetary penalty payable to the Board in an amount twice the sums spent in violation of the endorser’s agreement.
10. Role of Bar Organizations. Nothing in the provisions for an Official Guide will preclude the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, the North Carolina Bar Association or the State Bar of North Carolina, or any other organization of lawyers qualified to endorse judicial candidates from engaging in any campaign they deem necessary to respond to a campaign conducted or funded by any individual, organization or party not participating in the Guide and therefore not subject to the Board’s rules.
William B. Aycock, Chapel Hill
Charles L. Becton, Raleigh
Kenneth S. Broun, Chapel Hill
A. P. Carlton, Raleigh
Paul D. Carrington, Durham, Secretary
Allyson Duncan, Raleigh
James G. Exum, Greensboro
William P. Friday, Chapel Hill
James Fuller, Raleigh
Trina Jones, Durham
Harry Martin, Asheville
James G. Martin, Charlotte
Burley B. Mitchell, Jr., Raleigh
Robert Morgan, Lillington
J. Dickson Phillips Jr., Chapel Hill
Russell M. Robinson II, Charlotte
Clarence W. Walker, Charlotte
Lindsay Warren, Jr. Goldsboro
John WEbb, Raleigh
Willis P. Whichard, Buies Creek, Chair