We are witnessing a revolution in modern American politics right before our very eyes here in North Carolina.
North Carolina is home to special elections for Congress to fill two vacant congressional seats almost simultaneously which has never happened before. NC3, formerly represented by Congressman Walter Jones, runs from the Virginia border down east to north of Wilmington. NC9, which runs from Charlotte to Fayetteville, had to be re-run in the aftermath of the absentee ballot scandal uncovered in Bladen County in the 2018 elections.
State and local parties used to control who could or should run for any election because they held the purse-strings and had the networks that could go door-to-door and get people out to vote for their preferred candidate.
For such a special election in the past, 2, maybe 3 candidates might have filed to run to get the party’s nomination on either side. It made no sense to run without the backing of the party establishment because you wound up beating your head against a stone wall to no avail or good outcome.
Not any longer. 17 Republican candidates filed to run in NC3. 10 filed to run in the Republican primary for NC9.
What has happened to allow such an outbreak of democracy to occur?
One important factor was the McCain-Feingold bill of 2002. More specifically, the much-maligned and misunderstood Citizens United Supreme Court case handed down in 2010 which rendered parts of McCain-Feingold unconstitutional and opened campaign finance to the masses rather than the chosen few.
One of the things Citizens United helped create was the independent expenditure (IE) campaign which could fund issue advocacy and educational efforts through 501 c4 non-profit organizations. The one major restriction was that IEs could not “coordinate” any explicit campaign activity with the direct campaign organization of the candidate, hence maintaining the “independent” status of both the IE and the campaign.
The NC3 and NC9 primaries are on fast tracks: The primary for NC3 is next Tuesday, April 30 and the primary for NC9 is May 14. If any candidate garners 30% of the primary vote, they win outright and go right to the general election on July 9 and September 10 respectively.
What Citizens United has done in both primaries is make it possible for first-time candidates to have a chance at winning outright on the first primary election night.
3 conservative women are the beneficiaries of such independent support in the two primaries. Dr. Joan Perry of Kinston, a personal friend and a graduate of The Institute for the Public Trust which I run, was the first in either primary to receive such an endorsement from the Susan B. Anthony List, the major pro-life advocacy group in America today, which amounted to $75,000 of support in NC3.
Leigh Brown, a realtor in Huntersville, was endorsed by the Realtors PAC in an independent expenditure effort in NC9 which appears to be in the neighborhood well in excess of $1 million based on public ad buy records.
Celeste Cairns, an accountant in Jacksonville also running in NC3, was endorsed by the Club for Growth which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2016 to help newcomer Ted Budd, another Institute graduate, win the NC13 primary and then the general election.
Without Citizens United, none of these newcomers would have been able to compete and possibly win. Since both special elections are being held at odd times for elections and the turnout is expected to be very low, a candidate who can garner perhaps as few as 6000 votes can win 30% of the primary vote and avoid a runoff.
If you like more democracy and more non-politicians running for election, you can thank the Supreme Court for ruling on the side of freedom of speech and expression in the political world.
Citizens United has opened up the world of election to outsiders and newcomers like never before.