NC judge takes public campaign funding, also gets backing from group that calls it "welfare for politicians"

This year, conservative judge Paul Newby is running to keep his seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

And, like seven other judicial candidates in this election, he's taking money from the N.C. Public Campaign Fund, a program that gives judges running for office a grant -- after they qualify by raising money from small donors -- in the hopes of lowering their dependence on wealthy donors and special interests.

A Facing South inquiry to the N.C. State Board of Elections confirms that Newby sought, and received, a check for $240,100 from the public fund.

Newby's choice to use the program isn't surprising: Since it launched in 2004, the public campaign fund has been extremely popular with N.C. judicial candidates. All of the qualifying candidates for 2012 -- conservative and liberal -- opted to use public funding, bringing the participation rate to more than 80 percent of all eligible judges running for office since 2004.

What is surprising is that Newby, a conservative, is also receiving support in his race from a sworn enemy of the N.C. Public Campaign Fund -- Civitas Action, political arm of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank largely funded by a foundation led by GOP donor Art Pope.

State campaign finance records show Civitas Action ran $72,000 worth of radio ads supporting Newby in August and September of this year. While Art Pope's Variety Stores were the biggest backers of Civitas Action's political ads in 2010, this year the group reports being backed by two groups in Washington, D.C.: The Judicial Crisis Network and The Federalist Society, who have given Civitas Action $75,000 each.

Civitas has long led the charge to dismantle the public campaign fund and all publicly-backed election programs. Civitas leader Francis de Luca has castigated such programs as "welfare for politicians" and called for their elimination.

Brian Balfour, policy director at Civitas, has gone even further, publishing dozens of incensed commentaries that call for "ridding NC of the unjust practice of using taxpayer dollars to finance political campaigns," and attacking the entire idea as an "immoral system of coercion" and "insidious ... violation of liberty."

Will Civitas be asking Newby to return his $240,100 "welfare" check to North Carolina taxpayers?