Fall candidates, PACs spend $15M in 2 NC Supreme Court races

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A massive amount of money has been spent in a pair of North Carolina Supreme Court elections next week that could decide the court’s partisan tilt for several years.

A review of campaign finance reports due this week and other filings with the State Board of Elections shows the four general election candidates seeking two positions and affluent political action committees have spent at least $15 million combined to try to influence voters. Two super PACs alone have spend over $8 million, mainly on television and internet ads.

For comparison, U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd’s campaign had spent $12.6 million from early 2021 through Oct. 19. Most spending in the Supreme Court elections have surfaced in the past month or so.

The Election Day stakes are high with registered Democrats currently holding a 4-3 seat advantage, and the two seats on statewide ballots currently held by Democrats. The court would return to a Republican majority if a GOP candidate wins at least one of the races.

Several high-profile rulings over the past two years on redistricting, voter ID and criminal justice have fallen along partisan lines, with the Democratic justice comprising the majority opinion. A similar 4-3 ruling handed down Friday declared a judge appropriately ordered taxpayer funds be transferred to state agencies — without General Assembly action — to address longstanding education inequities.

Court of Appeals Judges Richard Dietz, a Republican, and Lucy Inman, a Democrat, are looking to succeed retiring Associate Justice Robin Hudson. And Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV, a Democrat, is seeking reelection against Republican Trey Allen, currently general counsel for the state court system.

The individual campaigns candidates reported spending $5.5 million combined through Oct. 22. Inman and Ervin have spent and raised more money with their respective rivals, with Inman spending $2 million and Ervin almost $1.9 million. Allen, who also had a primary election, reported spending $844,000 while Dietz spent $773,000.

North Carolina Families First, a liberal-leaning super PAC and player in state politics for several cycles, reported spending nearly $3.9 million as of late October on Supreme Court race advertising. One NC Families First ad suggested Allen and Dietz have “extreme” views on abortion and highlighted endorsements for Inman and Ervin from a political arm of Planned Parenthood.

Abortion could be an issue before the next edition of the court if additional restrictions on the procedure are approved by a Republican-controlled General Assembly. GOP legislators are trying to expand their majorities next week so that they could override any veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. The U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, giving states the power to decide the legality of abortion.

Stop Liberal Judges, another independent expenditure group, has run ads criticizing appellate court opinions backed by Inman or Ervin involving convicted child sex offenders and the ability to monitor them electronically for decades. The group has spent almost $4.3 million on the commercials, according to a campaign filing and a group spokesperson.

The North Carolina Chamber also has spent $1.35 million on Supreme Court ads supporting Dietz and Allen, according to a report describing its expenditures and a chamber commercial. The lone donor to the N.C. Chamber for its independent expenditures during the third quarter was the Washington-based U.S. Chamber for Legal Reform, which gave $1.5 million.

Financial contributors this fall to North Carolina Families First include the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, which gave $500,000 and the NEA Advocacy Fund, an arm of the National Education Association, which gave over $600,000. Over half of the the PAC’s contributions — $2.25 million — have come from a group called Make North Carolina First, a longtime contributor to liberal-leaning causes.

The sole contributor to Stop Liberal Judges as of Friday is a group called Citizens for a Better North Carolina, which lists as its largest donor the Virginia-based Good Government Coalition. Coalition donations this year, according to an IRS filing, have come from the Republican State Leadership Committee and the conservative GOPAC group.