Note: This program was eliminated in 2013 as part of H-589.
NC’s Council of State VOE program is a national model for clean elections.
In 2007, the North Carolina legislature created the N.C. Voter-Owned Elections Fund, a pilot VOE program for candidates running for Commissioner of Insurance, State Auditor and Superintendent of Public Instruction – all offices considered part of North Carolina’s Council of State.
It enjoyed a highly successful debut in the 2008 election. The State Board of Elections administers the program, with advice from a five-member Advisory Council appointed by the Governor.
The program was designed to:
- Reduce the reliance of these executive branch officeholders on donors who do business with their agencies.
- Encourage voter involvement and voter “ownership” of often overlooked but important races.
- Put realistic limits on campaign spending and fundraising for these offices.
As is the case with all VOE programs, candidates had to first demonstrate that they earned the public’s trust to be eligible for program money. To qualify, they had to:
- Declare their intent to participate in the program. If they spent over $20,000 for campaign-related purposes before filing this declaration, they were not allowed to participate.
- Raise a minimum of 750 small, qualifying donations ($10 to $200 each) from registered voters in North Carolina that add up to at least $30,000.
- Accept a a total spending limit and submit a record of the qualifying contributions and agree to:
- Stop all fundraising after they were certified as qualified VOE candidates.
- A total spending limit and use the public funds only for campaign purposes.
- Return any unused public funds to the Voter-Owned Elections Fund.
Candidates who qualified and had an opponent received a competitive amount of public money for the General Election. Commissioner of Insurance VOE candidates received a grant of $380,409 for the race and the State Auditor and Superintendent of Public Instruction VOE candidates each received a grant of $300,000 for their races. Each VOE candidate’s political party was also allowed to provide in-kind support of up to $30,000 during the entire election cycle. In addition, had an opponent or outside opposition group spent large amounts of money campaigning, the publicly funded candidate could have received rescue funds in order to remain competitive. No rescue funds were needed in 2008.
Success of the Council of State Program in 2008
- The program had high levels of participation; facilitated more grassroots campaigning; reduced the role of regulated industries in the election process; reduced the perception of a conflict of interest; freed candidates from the need to constantly fundraise; and allowed candidates more time to spend with voters throughout the state.
- Nine of the 11 candidates running for eligible offices opted into the program during the Primary. These nine candidates included two women, seven men; two African-Americans, seven Caucasians; three Republicans, six Democrats; two incumbents, seven challengers; and several first-time candidates who said the program empowered them to run. In addition:
- Four of six General Election candidates running for Commissioner of Insurance, State Auditor, and Superintendent of Public Instruction qualified to receive public financing, including two Republicans and two Democrats. A fifth candidate, Beth Wood opted into the program but did not qualify.
- Candidates raised over 4,000 small contributions between $10 and $200 from registered voters residing in all 100 counties.
- Participating candidates stopped all fundraising after May 6 and were able to spend hundreds of additional hours listening to the concerns of people across the state.
- The average contribution fell dramatically in all of these races. For example, in the Commissioner of Insurance race, the average contribution dropped from $500 in 2004 to just $70 in 2008. For the other two races the average was less than $50.
- Contributions from industries with financial ties to Council of State agencies dropped dramatically. In the Insurance Commissioner race, the total dollars donated by regulated industries dropped from 66% of the total contributions in 2004 to less than 5% in 2008.
- The total cost of grants during the 2008 cycle was $1,360,818, far less than the budgeted amount. Electioneering and 527 groups did not overwhelm the race or mount any major attacks, so no matching money was triggered.
- The majority of the elected officeholders of the 2009 Council of State support Voter-Owned Elections and would like to see their offices included in the program.
The success of the Council of States pilot program led to the introduction of bills in the NC House and NC Senate to expand the program. In fact, the 2009 Senate passed a bill (S-20) to expand the program to Treasurer and the House is expected to take action on the bill during the 2010 session.