In writing the opinion of the court for the 5–4 majority in the Citizens United v. FEC, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” But a new tax-exempt outside group, named the North Carolina Judicial Commission, may put Kennedy’s assertion to the test.
According to the News & Observer, the group aims to raise unlimited sums of money from conservative and pro-business donors to re-elect state Supreme Court Justice Paul M. Newby this November. Newby, who is part of a 4–3 right-leaning majority on the court, faces a challenge from Sam Ervin IV, a judge on the state’s court of appeals and the grandson of the late Sen. Sam Ervin Jr. (D-NC).
Newby generated controversy when in 2005, he attended a rally for a constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex marriage equality while a sitting appeals court judge and when he wrote a 4–3 majority opinion that said a Durham couple could not sue an out-of-state company for predatory lending.
The article notes:
The new super PAC — officially known as an independent expenditure committee — is comprised of Republican heavy-hitters. Wealthy businessman and charter school entrepreneur Bob Luddy is the committee’s chairman. Tom Fetzer, former chairman of the state Republican Party, and I. Beverly Lake, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, serve on its board of directors.
Fetzer told the paper “Heading into this election, which is largely publicly financed, candidates have a limited ability to get their message out. I thought it was a good idea to set up an independent expenditure for Paul.”
The idea behind public financing for elections — especially state judicial elections — is that jurists should not be beholden to moneyed interests. But thanks to the loophole created by Citizens United, special interest groups can circumvent those limits and spend as much money as they can afford to push for the election of judges friendly to their cause. And if their efforts succeed, it is hard to believe the will be no “appearance of corruption” should a state justice decide a case in favor of a company or individual who helped back his or her re-election through a group like the North Carolina Judicial Commission.