NC Center for Voter Education Response on Supreme Court Ruling on Matching Funds

RALEIGH - The U.S. Supreme Court today handed down a 5-4 ruling in the case of McComish v. Bennett (PDF), which centered on the question of Arizona's use of matching funds in its public financing program.

The court's five-member majority struck down Arizona's matching-fund mechanism, which grants additional money to publicly financed candidates when their privately funded opponents or independent political groups spend above a certain threshold.

The four-member minority found the matching-funds provision to be fully constitutional as it helps foster increased political speech and combats corruption.

While the McComish case dealt specifically with Arizona's public financing program, North Carolina's judicial public financing system includes a similar matching-funds provision.

The following is a statement from Damon Circosta, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, in response to Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling:

"It is unclear if today's narrow Supreme Court decision can be readily applied to North Carolina's matching-funds mechanism, given that our state's program deals with the judiciary, a branch of government traditionally seen as requiring strong protections from the corrupting influence of special-interest money.

"What is clear is that North Carolina's judicial public financing program has proven to be successful in reducing the influence of private cash in elections to our state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Since its implementation in 2004, 39 of 61 candidates have participated in this public financing program, including challengers and incumbents, men and women, Republican-backed candidates and those endorsed by Democrats.

"The program enjoys strong support from North Carolinians, with 49 percent of voters saying they would be less likely to support a legislative candidate who wished to end the judicial public financing system, versus just 20 percent who say they would favor such a candidate, according to a poll commissioned by the N.C. Center for Voter Education in February of this year.

"In addition to having widespread support among judicial candidates and voters, North Carolina's judicial public financing program has been specifically upheld by the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Even while today's Supreme Court decision narrowly struck down Arizona's matching-funds component, it broadly reaffirmed the constitutional basis for public financing programs in general.

"The implications of the ruling on Arizona's matching-funds provision remain uncertain for North Carolina. Some changes to our program may be needed in response to this decision. But we are confident that our state's judicial public financing program will continue to give court candidates a sensible, constitutional alternative to special-interest contributions for years to come."