Nationally and especially in the South, government reform advocates view North Carolina as a trend-setter.
Over the last decade, the state's "good government" groups have pushed through tough ethics legislation, same-day voter registration and a Voter Owned Elections program aimed at lessening the influence of private interests by offering candidates the option of using public funds to run their campaigns.
But with Republicans now in control of the state legislature for the first time in over a century, NC conservatives -- already hostile to publicly-financed campaigns -- are ramping-up calls for abolishing the program, which now applies to select judicial and state offices.
In its recently-released "First 100 Days" agenda, the conservative John Locke Foundation calls on state policy-makers to "Repeal Taxpayer Financing of Political Campaigns," saying:
Forcing taxpayers to subsidize candidates they oppose is unethical. Taking taxpayer dollars for political welfare is also unethical. Furthermore, these programs are likely unconstitutional because they chill the free speech rights of citizens, candidates, and independent organizations.
But the Locke Foundation is far from a disinterested observer in the debate over money in politics.
As Facing South revealed last October, since 1994 the Locke Foundation has received over 80 percent of its funding from one single source: A family foundation run by Raleigh retail magnate and leading Republican donor Art Pope.
Indeed, between 1994 and 2008, Pope's foundation showered more than $14.5 million on the group (the foundation's records for 2009 and 2010 are not available). Pope also sits on the Locke Foundation's board of directors.
Art Pope was also the single most influential campaign benefactor in North Carolina's historic 2010 state elections.
As Facing South was the first to document, three outside groups backed by Art Pope, combined with personal contributions from Pope family members, spent over $2.2 million targeting 22 key state races in 2010, playing a decisive role in the GOP's capture of the house and senate chambers.
In fact, one of the key outside groups Pope backed in 2010 -- Civitas Action -- specifically ran attack ads against state Democrats in at least a dozen races over the issue of "taxpayer funded campaigns."
State election spending reports show that 72 percent of the money for Civitas Action's attack ads in the 2010 campaign season came from Variety Stores, Inc., the retail business owned by Art Pope.
The remaining 28 percent came from the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, of which Pope is a director. Pope's family foundation has also given $1.3 million to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, AfP's sister group.
Given these facts, one can understand why Republicans and the Locke Foundation appear to prefer Pope-funded elections to publicly-funded ones -- it certainly worked for them in 2010.