For the first time, every candidate for North Carolina's appellate courts have filed their intent to use public money for their campaigns.
Participating candidates for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals can qualify for grants from the Public Campaign Fund. They have to agree to spending limits and raise a specified number of small donations from N.C. voters.
"It shows the success of the program it means that the courts are more accountable to the public than the system of private donors," says Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina and an advocate of publicly financed elections.
Since the program started in 2004, Hall says 31 of 40 candidates in contested general election races have taken part. The Public Campaign Fund has been funded by voluntary tax checkoffs and a $50 annual fee from attorneys.
Proponents say the law prevents conflicts that might arise from donors or groups with interests before the court gaining undue influence.
In West Virginia, for example, the chief executive of a large coal company spent $3 million to help elect a judge in 2004. This year the state legislature has approved legislation modeled on North Carolina's that will create a pilot public financing program for Supreme Court races in 2012.
"North Carolina is rightly setting a national standard that other states are following and looking to," says Hall. "And I think it's a lesson in success in addressing a perceived problem of special interest money in elections that can be adopted for other offices in North Carolina.