Legislation introduced Wednesday that would make sweeping changes in the way candidates for judicial posts finance their campaigns is opening up discussion on the issue, which is seen as a positive step by a local judge.
The proposal would limit the financial involvement of political parties and independent groups, like those involved in last years Supreme Court election. And candidates who agree to spending limits can qualify for campaign funds taxpayers voluntarily contribute on their tax forms.
Walter Matthews, Floyd Countys senior superior court judge, said the matter should be discussed thoroughly and no knee-jerk action taken.
Right now we need to see what is going on, see what the legislature wants to talk about, he said. There are a whole host of ideas, some of which may survive, some may not. They are not trying to push it through too hard.
Judge J. Bryant Durham, another Floyd County superior court judge, said he has basic concerns about publicly financing the races.
Philosophically, I am not usually in favor of public financing, he said. Durham said he has concerns that public financing can clash with free speech.
Last years campaign for Supreme Court triggered the proposal because of the record amount spent and because of the participation of both major political parties and a group of insurance companies, doctors and manufacturers who pumped in more than $1 million, according to Rep. Ed Lindsey, author of the package. Even though challenger Mike Wiggins lost despite the backing of the groups Lindsey wants to stop, the legislator said such campaigning is harmful.
I think they have a slow eroding effect because they impact peoples perceptions of judges, he said.
The bipartisan package of bills won the immediate backing of several groups, including Common Cause of Georgia, the League of Women Voters and Georgia Watch.
Sponsored by Lindsey, a conservative Republican lawyer from Atlanta, the proposals benefit from his standing as the vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and co-sponsorship by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a liberal Democrat from Decatur with a reputation as a savvy lawyer who was the last chairman of the committee under Democratic control.
But at least one influential legislative leader remains unconvinced. The current chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Atlanta, objects to public financing. I do not think theres a need. It opens the door to public financing of other races.
Morris News Service contributed to this report.