ABOVE: Video from the N.C. Voters for Clean Elections citizens lobby day at the N.C. Legislature, calling for expansion of the state's public campaign financing programs.
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Citizens Visit N.C. Legislature to Call for 'Voter-Owned Elections'
By Bryan Warner
Published: Jun. 17, 2009
RALEIGH - The issue of money in politics prompted about 120 North Carolinians from across the state to gather at the General Assembly on Wednesday for a citizens lobby day organized by the nonpartisan N.C. Voters for Clean Elections.
The citizens in attendance came from varied generations and backgrounds, but were united in their call for publicly financed campaigns, or what supporters term “voter-owned elections.”
About 120 voters from across North Carolina gathered at the N.C. Legislature to call for expanding the state's public campaign financing programs through two bills currently under consideration:
“The struggle for public financing I think is so important because it’s providing access to people in our communities to get at the table when the decisions are made,” Erin Byrd of the N.C. Justice Center said. “If the cost of running for office is so high that we can’t afford to participate at the table, then what are we fighting for?”
Joining the citizens on hand were several elected officials, including N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who made the case for reforming the current election system where candidates often have to raise large sums of private campaign donations.
In 2008, Goodwin ran for office under a pilot program of public financing for three Council of State races – auditor, commissioner of insurance and state superintendent of public instruction. Goodwin noted the differences between running a publicly financed campaign and his experience running for offices where public financing was not available.
“When I ran for other offices, [raising contributions] took up an inordinate amount of time,” Goodwin said. “Guess who suffered from that. Not only me and my family, but the people did.”
In addition to the Council of State public financing program, North Carolina has a system of public financing for state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races. This fall, the Town of Chapel Hill will launch the state’s first program of public financing for local elections.
Attendees at the lobby day event expressed their support for expanding public financing to five more Council of State offices, as well as allowing towns and cities across the state to create public financing programs for their local elections.
“I believe if this pilot program for insurance commissioner is expanded to other offices, you will have more educated voters, not only about the issues, but also who the candidates are,” Goodwin said. “And you will have candidates and elected officials who are actually and are perceived to be beholden to no one but the people.”
North Carolina voters are generally supportive of public campaign financing, according to an April poll commissioned by the N.C. Center for Voter Education, which found 60 percent of voters favoring the state’s judicial public financing program and 47 percent in favor of expanding public financing to a total of eight Council of State offices, with 33 percent opposed to such a move.