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, September 22nd, 2010
Update on yesterday’s post: As another benefit from the federal health care reform law, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced it will refund $155.8 million to about 215,000 individual Blue Advantage policyholders in the state – or about $690 for the typical customer. In more good news, NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin successfully pushed Blue Cross to accept a 23% lower rate increase than it sought. The negotiated 5.37% increase is the lowest hike from Blue Cross in the past four years. Importantly, candidates for NC Insurance Commissioner can opt into a public campaign financing program. Goodwin got only about 5% of his campaign money in 2008 from insurance industry-related donors, compared to the 66% share supplied to his predecessor who had no public option for his campaign. Yesterday’s LINK also referred to the health-care money taken in by NC members of Congress. A report by the News & Observer includes an updated list of the top industries donating to Richard Burr’s campaign: three of his top four are related to health care providers, pharmaceuticals and the insurance industry.
Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
Contrary to the right-wing cry to “get government off my back,” the NC Council of Churches and the national coalition, Faithful Reform in Health Care, point out that government can help people solve problems. The coalition released a list of nine new benefits that begin this week because of the federal health care reform law. Families The substantial changes come about despite the millions spent by the insurance and health-care industry on lobbying and campaign donations to block reform. As Democracy NC research shows, there’s a strong correlation between the members of Congress who got the most money and the ones who side with the industry against consumers, with Sen. Richard Burr leading the NC list. The Faithful Reform coalition makes plain which side it’s on: “As people of faith, we envision a society where each person is afforded health, wholeness, and human dignity. This vision embraces a system of health care that is inclusive, accessible, affordable, and accountable.”
Friday, September 17th, 2010
The Fair Elections Now Act (which would provide Congressional candidates with a public campaign financing option) is slated for its first historic vote next week. The Committee on House Administration will “mark up” the bill on September 23 and hopefully vote to move it forward on its journey through Congress. The New York Times, many other newspapers, 160+ members of Congress, and a host of organizations have endorsed the measure, which would be financed with proceeds from auctioning parts of the unused broadband spectrum, not from taxes. The bill’s advance is “a clear sign that members of Congress realize that the American people are fed up with the status quo in Washington. Voters want a Congress that is accountable to them, not corporate and special interests,” says Public Campaign. A new ad illustrating that sentiment from tea party activists to progressive liberals begins airing this week. The reform coalition promoting the bill (now HR 6116, rather than HR 1826) includes Democracy North Carolina and many NC groups.
Thursday, September 16th, 2010
If you’re looking for a nail-biting close election, welcome to North Carolina in 2010. The NC Republican Party is excited about the prospect of gaining majority control of the state Senate for the first time since 1898, but Democrats believe they will narrowly hold their majority. A handy race-by-race projection from an astute analyst who helps businesses invest in “free market” candidates shows the Republicans winning the NC Senate and very likely the NC House. Of course, projections are tricky. Both sides are using polls to woo financial support with a message that they can win, with a little more money. The stakes are extra large this year: the winner gets to use the 2010 Census to redraw legislative and Congressional district lines that will favor their party for the next decade. Who wins comes down to who shows up to vote. The GOP is counting on an energized base of supporters, plus discouraged Democratic voters staying home and independents heavily favoring Republican candidates.
Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Check out this Facebook feature about North Carolina’s US Rep. Heath Shuler. He wants to hear something from you.
Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
Some updates: The company trying to build a giant cement factory near Wilmington (LINK, Feb. 13, 2010) has changed its legal and lobbying team, abandoning the McGuireWoods firm that once boasted having former Gov. Mike Easley and several of his associates on its payroll. Easley and Ruffin Poole have left McGuireWoods, and some key legislative supporters (e.g., state Senators Tony Rand and David Hoyle) won’t be back in 2011. Titan America is going with Womble Carlyle, the state’s largest law firm with a well-established lobbying arm; opponents of the proposed factory say they’re gearing up for continued battle.
In national news, the New York Times has two more stories about the escalating spending of outside groups in the 2010 elections – one about the unprecedented scale of the money this year, thanks to billionaires backing GOP candidates, and another about a pro-labor group that has filed a complaint with the IRS against the Chamber of Commerce for allegedly using money from a foundation for its political spending. AdWeek also reports that spending on advertising by the candidates will break the 2008 record, even though this is not a presidential election year.
Monday, September 13th, 2010
The up-coming use of the Instant Runoff Voting method to fill a vacancy on the NC Court of Appeals is beginning to get more media attention, which is good. But the 13 candidates in the race deserve attention, too; IRV works best when voters know more about the candidates. To help, a Special Edition of the Judicial Voter Guide is now posted on the website of the State Board of Elections and it will be mailed in early October to four million households. (The Voter Guide for five other appellate court races was already printed when the vacancy occurred; it’s at the same web address and will be mailed late this month.) The Special Edition includes profiles of the 13 candidates, plus information about voter registration, voting rights and the Instant Runoff Voting method, with a graphic illustration of the ballot. Producing a voter guide in appellate court races is an integral part of the state’s public campaign financing program, not the extra cost of having an IRV election. Like other judicial voter guides, the roughly $500,000 cost is paid by the Public Campaign Fund, from the voluntary $3 check-off and a surcharge on attorney dues, not from general tax funds. The same expense for this special edition would happen for a plurality election. While it’s far from ideal to have any election begin this late in the season, with or without IRV, it’s helpful that there is a source of funding through the Public Campaign Fund to provide an important educational booklet about the candidates and the voting method –- and to have it mailed statewide. Mailing to all households is actually much cheaper than picking only those with registered voters, and citizens who are not registered can still use Same-Day Registration at the One-Stop Early Voting sites. The Guide tells them how.
Saturday, September 11th, 2010
NC Congressmen Larry Kissell and Bobby Etheridge, both Democrats, will be blasted with $1.4 million worth of attack ads in the next month by the anti-government Americans for Job Security. Like many front groups designed to help a narrow segment of the super-rich, AJS uses emotional themes tied to fear, greed and insecurity to sway voters. The group pretends to care about jobs for Americans but it is bankrolled by job exporting corporations. Public Citizen filed a complaint with the IRS against its sham issue ads a few years ago, but now, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, AJS is free to raise corporate money and overtly advocate the defeat of its enemies. It joins an expanding galaxy of 527 committees, PACs, 501-c-6 trade associations (AJS is one, so is the US Chamber of Commerce) and other vehicles capitalizing on the Citizens United decision.
Friday, September 10th, 2010
It takes a billionaire, maybe two or three, to fight the obvious notion that burning huge quantities of oil in vehicles, homes and factories is fueling climate change. The secretive, mega-billionaire Koch brothers are ready for the challenge. As mentioned earlier (August 24 LINK), David and Charles Koch are beginning to get more attention as major patrons of tea party organizers and a host of right-wing organizations that focus on stoking anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government sentiment. Koch Industries is a diverse conglomerate but still relies heavily on its oil and gas roots for the fuel to keep expanding. Greenpeace has a wonderful report tracking the political contributions, lobbying expenses and a labyrinth of nonprofit operations the Koch family use to fight global warming, promote rightist politicians and run public-relations smear campaigns. Their moral compass apparently got lost some years ago.
Thursday, September 9th, 2010
Speaking of false claims made to discredit (per yesterday’s LINK about the fibs IRV opponents tell), check this out from the Washington Times, which is like Fox News in print, using a mainstream format to package its propaganda. The newspaper is so opposed to Election Day registration and similar measures that it grabbed a tidbit from a Ohio news story about dead people voting and ran an stinging editorial against voting rights advocates: “The Obama administration and liberal bureaucrats are working to help everybody vote, whether or not they are eligible (or even alive),” it asserts. But the Washington Times deliberately misquoted the Ohio news story which explained that officials found that the votes cast by “dead people” were actually due to clerical or other errors. Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch gives another example by exposing the deceitful manipulations behind a Civitas Institute/John Locke Fnd report that claims NC General Assembly members are making an excessive “average pay” compared to private-sector workers. For starters, Fitzsimon points out that legislators must use this “pay” for out-of-town travel and lodging for dozens of days a year, whereas regular employees are reimbursed for such expenses on top of their basic salary, so the comparison is fundamentally flawed. Telling the truth is apparently not a core value for these “conservative” outfits.
Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
Ready or not, Instant Runoff Voting will be used to fill the recent vacancy on the NC Court of Appeals created when Judge Jim Wynn stepped down to serve on the federal court. Gov. Bev Perdue appointed Judge Cressie Thigpen a couple weeks ago to fill the seat temporarily, until a winner in November begins a new eight-year term. Thigpen is the former law partner of Dan Blue, former president of the State Bar, and a Superior Court judge. He’s the only African American among 13 candidates who have filed for the seat. The State Board of Elections last week voted unanimously to produce and mail to 4 million households a special edition of the Judicial Voter Guide (paid for by the Public Campaign Fund, not general tax dollars), with profiles of the candidates and an explanation of how to use Instant Runoff Voting. Commentators are right to wish another method could be used to fill these late vacancies, including merit selection, but the NC constitution and state law don’t provide much wiggle room. Sadly, IRV opponents are ready to distort the truth to score points, as I pointed out in a recent blog response. The focus should be on educating voters about the candidates, the voting method, and perspectives on who’s the best judge for the job.
Monday, September 6th, 2010
On this Labor Day, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich succinctly describes how Americans are working longer hours for less pay while the benefits of increased productivity flow to the top 1%; this distorted distribution of the wealth we create means consumers don’t have the money to buy what the economy is capable of producing, and the grandiose expectations of the super-rich promote manipulative investments and political deals that eventually crash. We’re stuck in the Great Recession, says Reich, until we have reforms at least as radical as those used during the Great Depression. It’s worth noting that 1% of the population contributes about 90% of the campaign contributions to politicians. That’s our finding from various studies at Democracy North Carolina and no doubt it holds true elsewhere. For the sake of our economy, our jobs, our future, we need more political leaders who don’t depend on the narrow-minded super-rich.
Friday, September 3rd, 2010
Want to get a picture of how big money in politics is crushing real people? Watch this short video from Brave New Foundation about a farmer in Iowa, oyster harvester in Louisiana and coal miner in West Virginia. (Explore the Fair Elections website for more Good Stuff.) The message is clear: people suffer when wealthy special interests block common-sense policies and use politicians to get richer at our expense. The public purpose of government is now so distorted that even reducing the Bush tax cuts for multi-millionaires is considered too difficult, too risky. Meanwhile, the notion that this is the “year of the woman” in Congressional races is being busted by men with greater fundraising clout and connections with the rich. Ready to change the abusive role of private money in elections?
Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
Real Jobs NC, the 527 committee backed by Art Pope, Fred Eshelman and the national Republican Party, has begun sending tons of attack-ad mailers to voters in the districts of several state House Democrats who face tight elections. (See August 18 LINK entry.) Mark Binker of the Greensboro News & Record looks into the claims made in the mailers attacking Rep. Hugh Holliman and finds they use the wrong dollar amounts, cite the wrong legislation, attack laws endorsed by plenty of Republican legislators, but still have some factual basis. It would be interesting to see how Rep. Jeff Barnhart and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell voted on the measures that Real Jobs NC finds so loathsome; the two Cabarrus county Republican legislators are officers of RightChange.com Inc., which Fred Eshelman heads and which gave $100,000 to Real Jobs NC.
Wednesday, September 1st, 2010
A Texas judge has ordered the national Republican Governors Association to pay $2 million to the state’s Democratic candidate for governor in 2006 because the association illegally funneled $1 million to Republican Gov. Rick Perry from the nation’s biggest individual campaign donor that year. The donation came from Bob Perry, the Houston mega-builder and patron of the Swift Boat attack ads; he is not related to Gov. Perry. The Governor has already paid $426,000 to settle his part of the deceitful practice. RGA is appealing, but the attorney for Chris Bell, the Democratic candidate, points out that the RGA was not even properly registered to make donations to Texas candidates. The judge agreed and also noted that the association failed to disclose its donors until well after the election. Under Texas law, the civil penalty can be awarded to the harmed candidate – hmm, what do you think the pros and cons would be for such a law in North Carolina?