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.
Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
The NC Voters from Clean Elections coalition released its 2010 scorecard that evaluates the support of state legislators for “voter-owned” public financing and related campaign reform measures. NCVCE points out that more legislators received perfect scores in 2010 than in previous reports. Meanwhile, three more judicial candidates have demonstrated enough public support to qualify for a grant from the Public Campaign Fund. The three are among 13 candidates vying for Judge Jim Wynn’s seat on the NC Court of Appeals. They are Judge Cressie Thigpen, who was appointed to fill the seat temporarily by Gov. Perdue; former Judge Doug McCullough; and attorney Stan Hammer. Because the Wynn vacancy occurred late and so few weeks are left in the campaign, the amount of the grant is reduced by law to $57,540.
Monday, October 11th, 2010
Early voting begins Thursday in North Carolina. Two short video messages, pro-Tea Party and anti-Tea Party, are each designed to get their side to the polls with a message that says, “Aren’t you scared by what’s happening in America? Get out and vote!”
Saturday, October 9th, 2010
Continuing the theme from the last couple of days, the Institute for Southern Studies has an eye-popping feature about Art Pope. Among other nuggets: Pope basically owns the Civitas Institute, the source of those so-called non-biased polls you see in the press; an amazing 99% of Civitas’ income comes from Pope through his foundation! Pope’s money is paid out monthly, keeping the operation on a short leash. Pope’s foundation is also the second largest institutional donor to Americans for Prosperity. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the brash maneuverings of selfish billionaires, fear not: The Onion reports you, the public, have a new advocate in Washington. Happy viewing.
Friday, October 8th, 2010
A front group for ultra-conservative Art Pope is jumping into new territory with the encouragement of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. It is using money from Pope’s business to run attack ads against Democratic leaders in the General Assembly. The 501(c)(4) group, called Civitas Action, has the same executive director, office, and dominating financial backer (i.e., Pope) as its 501(c)(3) nonprofit sister, the John W. Pope Civitas Institute. You may recognize that name; it’s the outfit that regularly sponsors polls on partisan issues that the News & Observer publishes as unbiased public opinion surveys. Art Pope and his various conduits are gearing up for considerably more political spending in the final weeks of the election, according to the Civitas director. It’s worth asking: is Pope’s business treating its donation to the (c)(4)/Civitas as a tax-deductible expense; i.e., is it lowering its tax bill while it buys $265,000 worth of “education” – for a net cost of less than $175,000?
Thursday, October 7th, 2010
The insidious corporate takeover of the U.S. Congress is gaining momentum and going global. A new report reveals that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is soliciting foreign donations to bolster its political operations, which include a $75 million budget for attack ads to elect its proxies to Congress. That’s probably the biggest political budget of any single “nonpartisan” organization this year – and all the funding is secret, because the Chamber shields itself behind the veneer of a nonprofit trade association. The Center for American Progress issued the report about the foreign money and is calling for a federal investigation. Expect more on this story in the coming days. We truly are moving to a new level of political intervention by a handful of billionaires and corporate wheeler-dealers who sense their investment will pay off big in November.
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
If you work with a nonprofit group, school, faith-based organization or social-service agency, you can play a vital role in educating and mobilizing voters. A one-hour webinar by the NC Center for Nonprofits will help you understand what nonprofits can and can’t do within tax law restrictions, and also give an overview of the basics about voting in the 2010 NC election that you can share with your clients, members, staff, etc. Register now for the free webinar, which goes from 1:30 to 2:30 on Thursday, October 7.
Monday, October 4th, 2010
Secret sponsors: Interest groups are spending five times as much in this election as in the last midterm election – and the identities of the money suppliers behind these groups are mostly unknown, in contrast to 2006 when 90% of the donors were disclosed. Public Citizens has a new report analyzing “fading disclosure” and the New York Times shows how hard it can be to learn who’s behind a nonprofit corporation, the vehicle of choice for 2010. PBS puts “the new wave of bare-knuckle campaigning” in the larger context of deregulation, with a short and powerful profile now playing on YouTube.
Friday, October 1st, 2010
The South and other parts of the Sunbelt will gain seats in Congress after the redistricting triggered by the new Census figures. But how many seats? The Institute for Southern Studies and its must-read blog Facing South are keeping score. The latest estimate by a private firm shows Florida and Texas gaining a total of six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, more than previously projected, and North Carolina holding steady at 13. However, the estimators admit they don’t include Americans living abroad in their numbers, and considering all those soldiers and contractors who list North Carolina as their home base, who knows – it’s still possible the Tar Heel state will eke out another seat, just as it did after the 2000 Census.
Thursday, September 30th, 2010
A new poll in swing Congressional districts finds that voters heavily favor the Fair Elections Now Act – the bill to provide Congressional candidates with a practical campaign-financing alternative that orients them to small donors and constituents rather than Washington lobbyists and PACs. How the question is asked in a poll always influences the answer, and you can read the question and response details in Celinda Lake’s release. You can also view a parody of our “cash-ocracy” in a new cartoon video by Mark Fiore.
Thursday, September 30th, 2010
Wilmington businessman Rusty Carter got slapped with a $100,000 fine today for funneling illegal contributions to state politicians. The Associated Press story describes what happened at the State Board of Elections meeting and references the letter Democracy North Carolina sent in June, urging the Board to assess a hefty penalty against Carter for his actions. There’s more about the case in our LINKS for June 22 and May 5, 2010.
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
The divide between rich and poor is widening in the United States, thanks in part to a political system driven by money. “The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49% of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3% earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures.” That ratio of 14.5-to-1 is nearly twice the 7.7-to-1 ratio in 1968. Politicians more attuned to their money-backers than the masses are enacting government policies (from taxes to spending) that favor the already-wealthy. The mega-rich can jump from unknowns to members of the U.S. Senate, or they can sponsor their own politician or national political committee. Just three billionaires have given 91% of the money behind Karl Rove’s American Crossroads attack-ad machine. Meanwhile, millions of low-income citizens barely have the time and resources to think about political participation. Registration – obtaining a license to vote – is not a simple hurdle in most states. Federal law requires government agencies that administer social service programs to help people become registered but it’s taken years to get many states to follow this law, often after litigation or concerted pressure by nonpartisan advocacy groups. And that just gets people registered, not involved in exerting their actual political power – which could lead to their increased economic power.
Monday, September 27th, 2010
The New York Times exposes the simple function of Americans for Job Security: serve as a front for corporations and business owners with a political agenda “to sidestep campaign disclosure rules.” It is set up as a 501(c)(6) trade association with members paying “dues” that are often one-time payments for attack-ad campaigns against specific politicians or referendum issues. AJS is spending more than $2 million in ads attacking US Reps. Larry Kissell, Bobby Etheridge and Heath Shuler, all Democrats. The 501(c)(6) tax-code classification allows the group to avoid disclosing the identify of any of its “members,” and at least some of them likely treat their “dues” as a business expense that they deduct from their personal or corporation’s taxable income. That means they reduce their tax bill by over $150,000 for every $500,000 they spend on attack ads, so the net cost to them is $350,000. It’s an odd form of publicly subsidized campaign financing that is helping fuel a corporate takeover of elections. As AJS’s ads become more direct in calling for the defeat of candidates, rather than just smearing them via “issue ads,” the donors should lose any tax benefits, but a Federal Elections Commission ruling still allows plenty of ways for AJS’s donors to remain anonymous.
Saturday, September 25th, 2010
The State Board of Elections has posted a list of Early Voting sites for all 100 counties on its website, with days and times each is open. Many counties offer multiple locations and more than one weekend day for convenient voting or same-day registration and voting during this period, Oct. 14 to 30. Seven include an opportunity for Sunday afternoon voting: Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Pitt, Vance, and Wake. You can also check the status of your registration and learn where your Election Day polling place is located; the first searches by name, the second searches by address and both of them go to a link where you can view the entire ballot for your precinct (you may be surprised to see a referendum issue or other item). Hint: When using the “voter lookup” or name search feature, it’s best to use the wildcard asterisk (*) in the first name field – for example, Eliz* – because otherwise you’ll need to type in a middle initial or name exactly as it is in your registration record. The search by address will allow you see a polling site and sample ballot whether or not you are registered.
Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
In Congress today, a House committee passed the Fair Elections Now Act, an historic achievement for the public campaign movement; however, it is unclear if the bill will be taken up on the floor before the House recesses in a few weeks for election campaigning. Meanwhile, by a vote of 59-39, Senate Democrats failed to gain a single Republican supporter for ending a filibuster against the DISCLOSE Act. The Act would require more information about many of the shadowy groups now spending millions on the election. Because 60 votes were needed for closure, the measure will not be taken up – even though 59% of the 100 Senators favor it.
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
We have a challenge for you. Democracy North Carolina can’t support particular candidates, but we can promote a big turnout of conscientious voters. And you can help. Right now, we’re in the middle of a giant voter mobilization campaign designed to target, educate and turn out 100,000 North Carolina voters who support Voter-Owned Elections BUT who don’t typically vote in mid-term elections like 2010. We have five organizers working in more than 20 key counties across the state. We’re producing over 200,000 voter guides, church bulletin inserts and flyers with information about how to use Early Voting and Same-Day Registration. We’re mounting a two-week phone bank and a “Souls to the Polls” campaign that involves more than 300 churches and faith organizations in voter education and mobilization. And here’s where the challenge comes in: Your contribution of $25 or $50 or more will help us implement this bold, statewide plan – and your donation will be matched, dollar for dollar, toward a special $10,000 challenge gift. We need your help to meet this challenge! Please donate now on line. It’s essential for people who care about reform to have their voices heard where politicians listen the most – at the polling place. A low turnout of voters this year will be a disaster. If people of goodwill stay home, the passionate anti-government forces who fight pro-democracy reform will carry the day. Please use the link to give what you can or send your tax-deductible donation for the Voter Mobilization Campaign to Democracy NC, 1821 Green Street, Durham, NC 27705. Thank you!