Under the Dome

Judge rejects part of North Carolina’s campaign finance system

FROM STAFF REPORTSMay 22, 2012 

A federal judge struck down part of North Carolina’s public campaign financing system, following in the footsteps of other cases that link political money to free speech.

U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan issued her ruling Friday after the N.C. Right to Life Committee challenged a state law that gives judicial candidates “rescue funds” when outside political groups spend a certain amount against them.

“The North Carolina matching funds statutes (impose) a substantial burden on the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups,” the ruling states.

The anti-abortion group challenged the constitutionality of the law in 2005, but the federal courts determined it was allowed under the First Amendment. But the group filed a lawsuit again in September to invalidate the North Carolina law after a similar financing system in Arizona was overturned.

The judge determined that North Carolina’s system is “nearly identical” to the Arizona law.

After the Arizona ruling, the N.C. State Board of Elections voted to not disburse money through the matching funds system. The state asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it was unnecessary because of the new rule. But the judge disagreed, writing that the lawsuit was relevant because the board could change its policy in the future.

Gary Bartlett, the state’s election chief, said state lawmakers will not need to repeal the law from the books.

James Bopp, Jr., the attorney for N.C. Right to Life, applauded the ruling in a statement. “North Carolina Right to Life can finally participate in judicial elections without worrying that their speech will fund a candidate they oppose,” he said. “The federal court rightly saw that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling required it to strike down the scheme once and for all.”

An educational trip to Florida

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina has planned a Tuesday afternoon rally and march to push for a program that would use corporate tax breaks to get more low-income students into private schools.

The group paid for a trip to Florida for 11 legislators, including House Speaker Thom Tillis, to learn about the tax credit program, N.C. Policy Watch reported last week.

Tillis general counsel Jason Kay and Educational Freedom lobbyists also went on the Florida trip with the bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Under the program, corporations receive tax credits equal to 100 percent of their donations to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations. Those organizations give scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools.

Policy Watch, an arm of the N.C. Justice Center, asked if the trip violated the state’s lobbying laws.

Parents for Educational Freedom’s president Darrell Allison said it was an educational trip.

Bob Phillips of Common Cause told Policy Watch that the trip met the definition of lobbying and violated state statutes.

Obama-related suspension

A Rowan County high school teacher who was caught on videotape telling a student he could be arrested for slandering President Barack Obama has been suspended.

Tonya Dixon-Neely teaches social studies at North Rowan High. She is heard on the video telling a student that he could get arrested for being critical of President Obama and that people were arrested for being critical of President George Bush.

“Effective today, Tanya Dixon-Neely has been suspended with pay while a thorough investigation is being conducted,” school officials told WBTV when asked about Dixon-Neely’s status.

The Salisbury Post first reported the argument, which appeared to start after a social studies class began discussing reports that presidential candidate Mitt Romney bullied a student while he was in school. The student questioned whether Obama also bullied someone, referring to passages in Obama’s book, “Dreams: From My Father” where Obama acknowledges pushing a middle school classmate after being taunted by other students.

No one is seen in the 10-minute video. The camera appears to be sitting on a desk or table, but the voices are clear.

“Listen, let me tell you something; you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” Dixon-Neely says

Staff writers John Frank, Lynn Bonner, Franco Ordonez

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