Art Pope is the conservative mega-donor in North Carolina whose millions helped usher in Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature in 2010, and who dropped millions more in 2012 to elect Republican Gov. Pat McGrory. Perhaps to say thanks, McGrory promptly named Pope, a former board member of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity group, the state’s new budget director.
One of Pope’s pet causes has been killing North Carolina’s public funding program for judicial elections, an aim of his when he served in the state legislature. The NC Public Campaign Fund, as it’s known, provides judicial candidates with taxpayer money to fund their campaigns so long as they collect 350 or more small donations from registered voters and also abide by campaign spending limits. The program is popular: Since its launch in 2004, 80 percent of judicial candidates in contested race for state Supreme Court and North Carolina Court of Appeals have used it. In May, 14 of the 15 judges on Court of Appeals, judges who represent both parties, urged state lawmakers to preserve the program. “Our current system of nonpartisan judicial elections supplemented by public financing is an effective and valuable tool for protecting public confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judiciary,” the judges said.
North Carolina’s judicial public financing program gets its money from a $3 check box on state tax forms and a $50 annual fee paid by attorneys. The budget proposed by North Carolina Republicans would suck all the money out of the elections fund and eliminate its funding sources, a death blow to the program. But as Chris Kromm of Facing South writes, state Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a Republican, had a fix. He offered a budget amendment that would preserve the $50 attorney fee while still sucking out all the fund’s money and eliminating the taxpayer check-box. Although Jordan’s amendment would hurt the fund in the short term, the attorneys fees would replenish it over time. Other Republicans liked this idea.
That’s when Art Pope called in his chits: