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Clean Money in North Carolina:
The Voter-Owned Elections Act

North Carolina has been the South's frontline in the effort to pass comprehensive Clean Money campaign finance reform. Clean Money legislation has been passed in several states across the country, but those victories have been in states which possess ballot initiatives - where voters can enact law at the polls. No state in the South has ballot-initiative, so in order to reform the money-flooded campaign system, a state's voters must go through their state legislature and Governor.

North Carolina has been the focus of much of Democracy South's research and advocacy and currently has the best opportunity to enact Clean Money legislation. Below is a bill summary for the Voter-Owned Elections Act, North Carolina's proposed Clean Money legislation which was introduced in the 2001 legislative session. Due to voter involvement, coalition building, and grassroots action across the state, the Voter-Owned Elections Act has 73 co-sponsors, including liberal and conservative members out of the 170 state legislators in North Carolina.

(House Bill 1410)

Purpose: The Act gives candidates a voluntary option to finance their campaigns using a publicly-supported fund, but only if hundreds of local registered voters authorize them to do so. It

  • encourages voter involvement and voter "ownership" of elections

  • eliminates the need for money from special-interest donors

  • puts realistic limits on campaign spending and fund-raising

Phase in Program
To allow time to see how the program works, it will be phased in over several years, beginning with candidates for Council of State agency heads in 2004, then candidates for General Assembly in 2006, then candidates for Gov. and Lt. Gov. in 2008

How Does it Work?
Candidates must first demonstrate that they've earned the public's trust in order to become eligible to receive money from the N.C. Fair Elections Fund. To qualify, you follow 3 steps:

STEP 1. Declare your intent to participate in the Voter-Owned Elections program.

STEP 2. Raise a minimum number of small, qualifying contributions ($10 to $100) from registered voters in counties served by the office being sought.
The minimum number is:

  • 7,000 small contributions for Governor

  • 3,000 for Lt. Gov. & Council of State

  • 400 for State Senate

  • 200 for State House

If you raise more qualifying contributions than needed, you get that much less money from the Fair Elections Fund. No qualifying contributions can be raised after you qualify. The deadline to qualify is 30 days after the first Monday in February of the election year.

STEP 3. Submit a record of the qualifying contributions and also agree to:

  • raise no private funds beyond the qualifying donations, plus up to a total of $500 from the candidate or candidate's immediate family ($1,000 for statewide races)
  • accept a total spending limit
  • use the funds only for campaign purposes
  • return any unused funds to the Fair Elections Fund

What Does A Certified Candidate Get?
Candidates who qualify receive a competitive amount of public money for the primary and general election. If you have an opponent, the amount is the median amount spent by candidates reporting expenditures in contested races for that office in the last two elections.

Your party can also provide in-kind support of up to 10% of this amount.

If a privately-funded candidate raises or spends more than the public funds available to you, you get additional funding, up to 200% of the original limit.

If there is no opponent in the primary, the certified candidate gets the median amount spent by candidates reporting expenditure in uncontested primaries for that office in the previous two elections. If you have no opponent in the general election, you get no more funds.

What Does it Cost?
The fiscal staff estimated the annual cost of covering all three classes of candidates is about 1/1000th of the state budget. That's less than 1 penny a day for each eligible voter in N.C. Since the program is phased in, the initial cost is about $2 million a year. Much of that money will come from voluntary donations earmarked for the N.C. Fair Elections Fund.

Who Oversees the Act?
The state Board of Election administers the Act, with advice from a five-member Advisory Council appointed by the Governor. It will recommend refinements to improve the program.

50 state Representatives and 23 state Senators became co-sponsors of the Voter-Owned Elections Act in the 2001 Legislative Session, including liberals, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans.


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