Dome: That dang banjo ad is costing super PAC $1.3 million

cjarvis@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2012 

The super PAC formed to re-elect Justice Paul Newby to the state Supreme Court has spent $1.3 million on the intentionally corny “banjo” TV ad promoting the incumbent, newly released records show. And the records provide the first glimpse of who is backing the independent campaign.

The N.C. Judicial Coalition – comprised of key figures in North Carolina conservative politics and a Democratic former chief justice – racked up that amount just between Oct. 11 and Oct. 23, according to reports filed with the state Board of Elections over the weekend. Previously, it had been known only that the PAC, an independent expenditure committee, had spent more than $800,000 on TV ads.

The committee reported receiving $723,525 through the third quarter of this year. While the disclosures show some of the contributors, the single biggest chunk of money comes from another independent expenditure committee, which has not yet reported its donors. Justice for All N.C., which was formed in May, gave $395,000 to the pro-Newby PAC in October.

Other contributors include: the N.C. Chamber independent expenditure committee, $163,700; R.J. Reynolds, $100,000; Judicial Coalition board chairman and Raleigh businessman Bob Luddy, $25,000; and Wilmington business owner Neil Bender II, $25,000. The N.C. Chamber super PAC reports spending an additional $77,000 to promote Newby through its own advertising.

The Judicial Coalition spent $617,590 last week after the third-quarter reporting had concluded. Newby is running against appellate court Judge Sam Ervin IV. Outside groups supporting Ervin have not reported spending anything close to this amount.

Independent expenditure committees, which are also referred to as super PACs, can raise and spend unlimited money to elect or defeat candidates, so long as they do not coordinate with the candidates’ campaigns.

The rapid escalation of money in the nonpartisan Supreme Court election over the past couple of weeks prompted a group of 39 lawyers and former judges, predominantly Democratic, on Friday to condemn the situation as a threat to the independence of the judiciary and as potentially undermining the public financing of appellate division judicial campaigns. But Republicans tend to counter that the criticism is partisan and hypocritical, and that people, unions and corporations have the free-speech right to spend money in politics.

Election help hotline

A national project has set up a hotline to help steer voters through impediments they might encounter. The Election Protection initiative, headquartered at the Lawyers committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., says it’s nonpartisan. That number is 866-OUR-VOTE. Democracy N.C. is helping staff the phones during early voting.

The law school at UNC-Chapel Hill will be staffing the call center on Election Day. Democracy N.C.’s Bob Hall says voters might be confused because of redistricting, which he contends disproportionately put minorities in new districts, or that they might be intimidated by “tea party-inspired” voter ID groups. Locally, the Voter Integrity Project has been challenging local and state elections boards to clean up voter rolls, as part of their campaign to prove widespread voter fraud.

There is a Democracy N.C. voter information website available at

Campaign notebook

Keith Karlsson, Democratic candidate for House District 49, will run the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh on Nov. 4. He’ll add that to marathons he’s completed in New York, Paris and Washington. … The state NAACP continues its “Million Voters March III” tour around the state leading up to Election Day. About a dozen events are scheduled. … The N.C. Bar Association has set up a website – – to provide impartial information about the District and Superior court candidates. It includes a survey from evaluations of the candidates. You can check them out by county.

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