Democracy North Carolina’s Executive Director Bob Hall periodically posts commentary and links of interest about one of our core issue areas. Review his posts below or click here to automatically subscribe to our Link-of-The-Day feed via email and other options.
You are welcome to submit comments to this moderated blog. Please treat others with respect, avoid partisan rhetoric, and help us provide a fact-based discussion of issues related to North Carolina’s political landscape. Thank you.
Monday, November 29th, 2010
The Nation Magazine has an important article that connects the rise of massive front-group spending in elections with the decline of the media’s coverage of political campaigns and policy issues. A front group’s distorting message becomes so much more effective when repeated frequently and when the media abandons its job, which is not gotcha journalism but solid political reporting. A responsible media would not just cover the latest polling and financing data, but the substance of what difference it makes whether Candidate A or Candidate B wins. The article is loaded with information about the 2010 election cycle, and exclaims: “The changes taking place in how campaigns are paid for and covered provides the most meaningful explanation for otherwise incomprehensible shifts in our politics.”
Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
Former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley walked away from court today with the long federal and state investigation finally ended. The US Attorney and a special state prosecutor, both Republicans, agreed to let Easley plead guilty to one felony charge of falsely certifying a campaign disclosure report that omitted details about one airplane flight, a class I felony that, considering his lack of previous convictions, brought him a $1,000 fine and a bill for court costs. The plea agreement resulted from intense legal wrangling about an obscure state law that complicated prosecution, the actual weakness of the federal criminal investigation, and the consensus among defense and prosecuting attorneys that a felony conviction alone, without a hefty fine or jail time, sends a message that stiff punishment is being handed down. (It’s doubtful the public at large will agree.) For all their effort, the FBI and US Attorney’s office did not obtain the kind of eyewitness testimony and documentary evidence of criminal corruption they needed to hold up in federal court. And the state’s special prosecutor also found no fraudulent use of campaign funds that went beyond the dozens of airplane flights and other campaign transactions that the Mike Easley Committee did not accurately report on its required disclosure reports. Our letter in July 2009 pointed out specific examples of illegal campaign contributions which the Easley Committee later admitted happened, and the State Board of Elections fined the Committee $100,000 for a host of unreported flights, some provided by corporations as illegal contributions. Easley’s attorney sought to spin the final verdict as a vindication of his client against charges of corruption, but the whole case serves as another reminder of how candidates eager for money will bend rules, even cross the line, to obtain extra funds. The underlying pressure driving political corruption is only increasing, especially in this post-Citizen United era. Unfortunately, the puny punishment today is neither a deterrent for the future nor an honest portrayal of the wrongdoing that happened. The bright spot was Easley telling the judge, “I have to take responsibility for what the campaign does. The buck has to stop somewhere. It stops with me.” That said, he now should pay the $100,000 fine levied against his campaign committee by the State Board of Elections; the committee paid only $6,000 and has nothing left after paying attorney fees – so, yes, this is Mike Easley’s responsibility: let him pay the other $94,000.
Monday, November 22nd, 2010
The Associated Press and News & Observer are reporting this afternoon that former Gov. Mike Easley has agreed to a plea deal to settle a federal and state investigation into possible corruption while he was in public office. A hearing about the deal will be held in Wake County court at noon tomorrow. Stay tuned for what happens, and look for coverage of a reduced penalty for corporate lobbyist Don Beason.
Friday, November 19th, 2010
While partisan opponents of “Voter-Owned Elections” will control the NC General Assembly next year, other parts of the nation will experience new advances for public campaign financing. West Virginia reformers held an event this week to celebrate that state’s new pilot program for Supreme Court elections, and Maine reformers threw a 10th birthday party yesterday for their first-in-the-nation “clean elections” program; well over 70% of the legislators elected in Maine, from both major parties, used the program. Larry Lessig entertained the party-goers in Maine with a rapid-fire slide show on why the clean elections idea is so important – and why it will continue to thrive despite the desire of “free market” fanatics to turn elections into auctions.
Thursday, November 18th, 2010
An alliance of six national good government groups are pushing the lame-duck Congress to pass a stripped down version of the DISCLOSE Act. The original bill went beyond just requiring disclosure of the major donors to electioneering committees; it would have banned election spending by subsidiaries of foreign corporations, large government contractors, and businesses owing TARP money to the government. The bill stalled in the US Senate when not a single Republican would help break a filibuster against it, although several said they supported the disclosure provisions but not the bans. Now the good government groups are trapping these critics by calling for a vote on a version of the DISCLOSE Act focused just on disclosure. To bolster their case, Public Citizen released a new report today detailing the scope of secret money in the 2010 elections – over $135 million, twice the total spent by all outside groups four years ago. Who can be against sunshine?
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
A disclosure provision in the financial reform law is providing an unusual window into how special interests lobby federal regulators for special relief. “Relax that rule or you’ll put us out of business.” “If you do that, we won’t be able to compete with foreign companies.” “To level the playing field, you should exempt us, or do fill-in-the-blank.” Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, other banks, hedge funds, and Wall Street operations are spending millions to cajole regulators at several agencies after losing the same arguments in the Congressional debates and last-minute negotiations that produced the far-reaching federal financial reform law. These firms prevailed so easily with the TARP bailout, and they enjoy so many government benefits, the notion of putting the public’s interest first is apparently quite shocking. The disclosure reports show that lobbyists for consumer interests are seriously outnumbered; more than 90% of the groups described in the meeting logs of regulators are related to banks, brokerage firms and others in the financial service sector. Apparently unhappy with the response of regulators, these same firms are now courting the new Republican leaders in Congress for special relief, i.e., a “corrections bill” to “peel back” reform. After all, Wall Street snubbed the Democrats and put a lot of money into the GOP winners’ campaigns; they expect a return on the investment.
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
Here are two quick overviews of the impact of the Republican victories on redistricting in the state and nationally. In North Carolina, the General Assembly will redraw the lines for state legislative and Congressional districts; the governor has no veto authority or any other role. In addition, each local governmental body is responsible for using the results of the 2010 Census to redraw the lines where local officials are elected by districts rather than “at large.” That means, for example, that the current (and controversial) Wake County School Board will redraw the political district lines for the members of the school board for elections in 2013.
Monday, November 15th, 2010
The mega-millionaires who financed Congressional elections this year want a spectacular payoff: a tax break worth tens of billions each year. This is the essence of pay-to-play corruption: money paid, special benefits returned. Even though the Congressional winners say investing in jobs is the top priority, they seem ready to fork over billions more to the top 2% of Americans. Why aren’t they saying, “Hell no.” Are the leaders of the Tea Party (and the Democrats and Republican, as well) silent because they know their major financial backers would benefit handsomely from this payoff? Some wealthy donors echo Warren Buffett’s advice that now is not the time to give the rich more tax breaks; fixing the weak economy is more important and bonuses for millionaires do not trickle down to the masses. But the greedy speak loudly, with their checkbooks. Indeed, there’s a direct correlation between the escalating money spent on political campaigns by private special interests and the growing gap between the rich and poor in America. Voters are rightly incensed.
Friday, November 12th, 2010
A preliminary analysis of fundraising by NC General Assembly candidates shows that Republicans were far more successful in the 2010 cycle than in previous elections. Many of them doubled their income from 2008, outraised their opponents, and funneled the donations to colleagues in tight races. Democrats raised substantial money, too, but several of their top fundraisers from previous elections had resigned or were not seeking reelection (e.g., Tony Rand, David Hoyle and R. C. Soles). Reliable Democratic donors, like hog baron Wendell Murphy, also jumped on the Republican bandwagon with late donations designed to give them access to the winners.
Thursday, November 11th, 2010
The good folks at NC Policy Watch have put together a baker’s dozen of targets the new Republican majority aims to destroy when they take their seats in the 2011 NC General Assembly. At the top of the hit list is Fair Elections. The goal of the new majority is apparently to gut public campaign financing alternatives, protect stealth intervention in elections by secretive donor groups, and make it harder for voters to participate by eliminating, for example, Same Day Registration. Put limits on voters, not big money.
Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
All locally elected bodies in North Carolina, including school boards, county commissions and city councils, must put in place a code of ethical conduct and receive ethical training by January 1, 2011. This article from Wilkes County outlines the requirements, core elements and considerable leeway involved in this new state law adopted by the General Assembly with support from Democracy North Carolina and others. It’s a first step in addressing widespread problems with local elected officials making decisions, or appearing to make decisions, that benefit their real estate and other financial interests rather than the public good. You may want to check to see how your local governmental bodies are proceeding with meeting the new law’s deadline. Let us know if you think we can be helpful.
Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
The first thing the mega-millionaires who financed the winners this November will go after is more money for themselves. They’ll call it tax relief for small business, but it’s really a further shift of US resources into the hands of a tiny elite. Nothing exposes the corruption of American politics more plainly than how politicians have twisted the tax system over the last few decades to favor big political donors. Read the essay by Nicholas Kristof about the US as a Banana Republic and, bringing it home, read the report from the NC Justice Center about who bears the cost of taxes in North Carolina. Will people demand that the government put money into job creation rather than give it to the wealthiest 2% of the people?
Monday, November 8th, 2010
“Follow the money. It tells a story – and it’s not a pretty one.” WRAL-TV in Raleigh looks at the spike in special-interest donations pouring into the campaign accounts of Republican leaders in the NC General Assembly in the final two months of the election. The head of the NC Dental Society explains his PAC board members’ decision to throw more money to the Republicans: the money buys the “access” needed to be a player in the political game. Forget about who serves the common good or even which candidate is right on your issue; just fork over the money to get on the right side of the projected winners. Maybe you’re seeing stories in the press or elsewhere about how the “pay to play” culture is alive and well in North Carolina and nationally. Let us know about them or post your own link to the story here.
Friday, November 5th, 2010
The Institute for Southern Studies has another report on Art Pope’s use of corporate and personal donations to spread lies and depress voter turnout by pumping up the “negatives” of state Democratic candidates. This is how you purchase election outcomes through deceit, but of course it didn’t begin with this election cycle and is not uniquely a Republican strategy. However, the scope of damage a few billionaires can inflict on democracy has dramatically grown with Citizens United and new technologies. Along these lines, NBC News has a report exposing another group bankrolling Karl Rove’s comeback – the Wall Street greed heads who steered the economy into the ditch. These are the patriots protecting America’s culture of family values.
Thursday, November 4th, 2010
A quick report by Public Citizen points out the significant role of the unprecedented spending by outside groups in US House and Senate contests on November 2. In 58 of the 74 elections where party control changed, the winning candidate got more support from non-party, outside group(s) than the loser. A press release with the report says, “Winning candidates in elections in which power changed hands were aided by average spending of $764,326 to help their cause while losing candidates were aided by average spending of $273,268, a ratio of nearly 2.8 to 1.”