New report shows NC Supreme Court race drew record outside spending

Posted by Craig Jarvis on October 24, 2013 

A new tally of campaign spending by outside groups in last year’s state Supreme Court race shows a far greater amount than had been previously counted.

The new report says $3.8 million was spent on the contest between incumbent Justice Paul Newby and challenger Judge Sam Ervin IV, mostly on Newby’s behalf.

In addition to outside money, the candidates used $480,000 in public financing and raised more than $170,000, making it a $4.4 million race that broke all previous records in North Carolina.

It was the fourth-highest in the nation, according to the report by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The report’s authors contend outside spending makes campaigns less transparent, particularly with the rise of Super PACs such as the N.C. Judicial Coalition, which spent nearly $2.9 million to support Newby.

“Our courts are supposed to be a safe place for impartial justice, but campaign cash and political pressure are threatening to tip the scales,” Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the judicial campaign reform group Justice at Stake, said in a statement. “If Americans start thinking of judges as politicians in robes, our democracy is in trouble.”

The report notes that public financing helped Ervin get his message out, but he was overwhelmed by outside spending for his opponent and lost the election. It notes that the state legislature this year voted to eliminate public financing, despite popular support for it.

Previous accounting of outside spending in the Supreme Court election pegged the amount at about $1 million less than the new report found.

Other findings:

• TV advertising on the NC races exceeded $3.5 million, the third highest in the country. Outside groups financed 85 percent of that.

• Americans for Prosperity, which advocates for limited government, spent more than it ever has on a judicial election: $250,000 to support Newby.

• Nationally, special interest groups and political parties spent $24.1 million on TV ads and campaign material in state court elections, making it the most costly ever.

Read the full report at

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