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.
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Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
House Speaker Thom Tillis left out loads of information about his donors when he filed his campaign disclosure report for the last half of 2011. He got called out by Democracy NC and others; he said he’d fix the report and file an amendment. Well, the new report is in and there are still lots of holes – but what does get included is even more stunning. Tillis labels the CEO of a consumer loan company a “homemaker” – even though she helped organize a fundraising event for him in Greenville that brought in more than $30,000. Turns out two thirds of that money came from other loan company execs from around the state, apparently bundled together for delivery at the fundraiser, along with fat checks from the industry’s two PACs. This feels like a replay of Jim Black’s style of pay-to-play: Tillis, you will remember, muscled a controversial bill through the House for the loan companies, despite vigorous opposition from military brass and consumer advocates. Democracy North Carolina put all this info together into a release today that stimulated some press coverage, including these video reports on WRAL-TV and Raleigh’s NBC-17.
Friday, February 24th, 2012
A quick look from the news: Here are two examples of splendid editorials from North Carolina papers – one from the Charlotte Observer about good ways to hold Super PACs accountable for their wacko ads, and one from the Winston-Salem Journal about the bad ways Speaker Thom Tillis’ behaves as a leader in government. And then Facing South provides a case study of Fox News’ dogged use of misinformation in “news” reporting for its political agenda – the story of zombie voters in South Carolina.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
Here’s a sobering statistic from a Washington Post report: “Four years ago, just 6 percent of campaign advertising in the GOP primaries amounted to attacks on other Republicans; in this election, that figure has shot up to more than 50 percent, according to an analysis of advertising trends.” Most of the money for the negative ads has come from outside groups, not the candidates’ committees, and it is dominating the election cycle so far, thanks to the Supreme Court’s various rulings that equate buying political influence with free speech. Outside groups feel less accountable for what they say, and media outlets let them get away with over-the-top trash talk. The New York Times has a donor-by-donor chart and USA Today adds analysis of the latest financial reports for Super PACs. The puny showing of the operation supporting Barack Obama’s re-election has led the President and his campaign to shift course and join in the hoax of helping “independent” groups raise mega-dollars to run “uncoordinated” advertising campaigns. The election system is being sucked into an Orwellian world ruled by Supreme Court justices who see corporations as people.
Monday, February 20th, 2012
NC House Speaker Thom Tillis deserves credit for his series of town hall meetings where he takes questions from the audience, including a sprinkling of dissenters. But his handlers apparently don’t want him exposed to an audience that is less overwhelmingly sympathetic to his message. Some voices are good, others are just not welcome, even in the People’s House. Tillis’ office was behind the order by police to remove a group of quiet demonstrators from the second floor of the General Assembly last Thursday; they invoked a little-known rule to achieve their censorship. But NC Policy Watch found this video to show that the rule was not used to kick out a similar crowd of Tea Party supporters on the second floor, talking with Speaker Tillis. Policy Watch calls it “Tillis’ double standard.” The News & Observer story about Thursday points out that a gaggle of Time Warner Cable executives were hovering around the Speaker’s office shortly before the demonstrators arrived, a normal sight. Voices of corporate special interests have long received favorable treatment in Raleigh. But that’s not to say we should not keep speaking up, organizing and demonstrating. An article in Yes! magazine, which highlights failed leadership from both Democrats and Republicans, profiles how broad-based grassroots action can beat the corporate giants: ““The government’s rejection of the AT&T/T-Mobile deal is an important reminder that the little guy can win in Washington.”
Thursday, February 16th, 2012
The NC General Assembly came back to town today, as demonstrators protested the leadership’s lousy record of out-of-control mischief and “madness against schools,” “madness against workers,” “madness against voting rights,” “madness for fracking,” etc. The Associated Press provides a good overview, and News 14 has this video of the demonstration. Protestors later went inside the General Assembly building to the second floor, where they lined up outside Speaker Thom Tillis’ office. The plan was to quietly show him the “madness” signs and let him know they were watching as he walked to the House Chamber to begin the special session. But the police intervened and, at the request of Tillis’ staff, they ordered the citizens of NC off the second floor. See the video of Adam Sotak, Democracy North Carolina’s organizing director, as he explains the protestors’ desire to see Tillis. Mark Binker of the Greensboro News & Record unearthed the obscure rule used to push people away. The over reaction seems to just confirm the “touch of madness” that has infected the Republican leadership.
Wednesday, February 15th, 2012
North Carolina’s election system is run by 100 county offices that oversee thousands of voting machines, train an army of poll workers, process millions of ballots, and solve a stream of problems that becomes a torrent on Election Day. It’s a system that needs regular maintenance tune ups, writes Damon Circosta of the NC Center for Voter Education. Without proper care, the system will suffer a breakdown – exactly when you need it most. Oddly enough, the new leaders in the General Assembly froze the federal grant money that counties have used for years to maintain their equipment, train workers, and open Early Voting sites. We wrote about the $4 million in frozen HAVA money a week ago, and newspapers from Wilmington to Asheville have joined the chorus of local election officials who say the money is needed and should be released. This kind of strange behavior is why citizens are protesting the “out-of-control” legislative leadership tomorrow, Feb. 16, when the General Assembly convenes for another special session. Be there yourself, check it out.
Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
The New Mexico legislature just passed a resolution calling on Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. A blog entry from John Nichols of The Nation describes the significance of this action and how it fits into other efforts for an amendment and the larger outcry against corporate domination in politics. The question is what bipartisan group of state legislators in North Carolina will step up to shepherd a similar resolution through the General Assembly? Speaking of leadership, here’s one perspective on President Obama’s recent embrace of the arms race in Super PAC fundraising: We don’t expect him to tie a hand behind his back in the 2012 slugfest, but David Donnelly of the Public Campaign Action Fund asks if Obama or some other presidential candidate will at least make a public commitment to be a leader for major reform after the election. Of course, there are multiple ways to demonstrate leadership now, even as they hustle a gazillion dollars for themselves and their alter-ego Super PACs. Back to North Carolina: All the candidates should be asked what they’ll do to attack the cancer worsened by Citizens United, and General Assembly members should be pressed to beef up disclosure of CU-inspired money now.
Thursday, February 9th, 2012
Guess where Pat McCrory ended his swing across the state, announcing the official start of his campaign for governor as the candidate who will “turn North Carolina around” and end the “corruption” of the Democrats? The trip finished in Wilmington, with a large McCrory rally at a pool hall and grill – which is owned by Steven Hebert, a donor to former House Speaker and convicted felon Jim Black, and which is stocked even today with video sweepstakes games from Southland Amusements, a company run by Robert E. (Bobby) Huckabee III. Huckabee’s Southland Amusements & Vending Inc. was at the center of the corruption complaint filed by Democracy North Carolina in July 2004 against Jim Black’s network of video-poker donors. Back then, Hebert had Huckabee’s video poker machines in his bar; the two have been doing business together for years. Many of the individuals listed in the complaint funneled campaign money to Black through other donors, with or without their knowledge, including Huckabee’s sister and Hebert’s wife-to-be, Holly Abbuhl. In testimony at the State Board of Elections into the complaint, it came out that Hebert gave Abbuhl the money to make her $1,500 donation to Black. Huckabee avoided testifying at the hearing by conveniently being out the country, but the taint of his dealings continues, as does the controversial evolution of video poker in North Carolina. It’s a surprising blunder to see Pat McCrory pledging to “turn around” pay-to-play politics at a place like Wilmington’s Break Time Billiards & Grille.
Tuesday, February 7th, 2012
A bipartisan group of election officials from more than 85 counties sent a letter to NC General Assembly leaders late last week, urging them to release $4 million designated for improving the administration of the 2012 elections. The funds come from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 and are in a NC bank account that has been used for years, but the General Assembly must appropriate an additional $660,000 to the State Board of Elections to meet federal guidelines before the final $4 million can be spent. Leaders in cash-strapped counties say they need the money to pay for voting machine maintenance fees, Early Voting sites, and poll-worker training. What are Republican legislative leaders thinking? Blocking access to $4 million for better election administration, while also trying to cut the Early Voting period and end Same-Day Registration, in a high-turnout presidential election year, with the added confusion of hundreds of new district lines and split precincts? Looks too much like partisan madness.
Friday, February 3rd, 2012
Dozens of news stories are telling the horrific impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on 2012’s election, and we’ve barely begun. Super PACs, billionaires, and front groups for who-knows-what are the oxygen that candidates rely on for their lives. They’ll also have a chokehold on them if they are elected. Election attorney Rick Hasen has a helpful overview of where we are now after Citizens United, and the Campaign Finance Institute adds important background and valuable details. A more responsible Congress would tackle this mess not just through campaign finance regulation but through the tax code. Mega-wealthy “persons” are using tax-exempt vehicles to smash democracy, with no “social welfare” purpose as required by the tax code. It’s past time to tax these entities as predatory commercial enterprises.
Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
Here’s a strategy to simultaneously fight nasty political money and the nasty political ads they buy: Go after the broadcasters and make them pull any ad not completely substantiated with hard evidence. As a media expert explains, independent ads don’t enjoy the same protection from a broadcaster’s good-taste test as ads produced by candidates during the election season. Independent groups escape many campaign finance regulations because they’re technically not connected to the candidate. So why not use this distinction to insist that their ads get treated like non-campaign ads and are pulled when they cross the line with exaggerated claims and accusations. Here’s another strategy being tried in the high octane Senate race in Massachusetts. Sen. Scott Brown (R) and challenger Elizabeth Warren (D) have signed an unusual agreement that they will give a charity half the cost of any third-party’s ad attacking his or her opponent – and they’re telling outside groups from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads to the League of Conservation Voters to back off and let the candidates handle their own messaging, with the piles of money their raising themselves. Definitely a model worth watching.
Thursday, January 26th, 2012
An editorial writer for the Raleigh News & Observer handed Art Pope a bevy of compliments for his “humanitarian” philanthropy, extolling the list of “charities and universities the Pope Foundation blessed with $1.2 million in grants last year.” Alliance Medical Ministries – $10,000; Barium Springs Home for Children – $10,000; Blessed Sacrament School – $10,000; etc. The writer, Burgetta Wheeler, managed this sweet story by cherry picking from the list of foundation recipients and committing the “one dimensional” journalism she ascribes to Pope’s detractors. Here’s a link to the complete list (pp. 20-23). A balanced story would have noted that the Pope Foundation gave a whopping $1.35 million to the strident rightwing group Americans for Prosperity in the same fiscal year, more than the combined total of Wheeler’s featured grantees. Or how does Pope’s giving to the goody-good list compare to one gift for college sports – $1,000,000 to UNC’s Rams Club, cleverly named The Educational Foundation Inc. Other unmentionables for the year: John Locke Foundation – $2.6 million; Civitas Institute – $1.2 million; NC Institute for Constitutional Law – $710,000; Pope Center for Higher Education – $542,800; NC Family Policy Council – $100,000; Job Creators Alliance – $100,000; NC Free Enterprise Foundation – $95,000; Heritage Foundation – $50,000. To shore up the foundation’s cash flow, Art and sister Amanda each donated $3.5 million, presumably from their share of earnings from Variety Wholesalers (Roses, Maxway, Super Dollar). An LOD account of previous foundation donations is here.
Monday, January 23rd, 2012
For those of you fascinated by the strange behavior of former Gov. Mike Easley, Don Carrington of the Carolina Journal has a new piece that examines Easley’s finances after his felony conviction, with an appropriate question: How can he move hundreds of thousands of dollars around and still not pay a dime toward the $90,000-plus fine that the Mike Easley Committee owes the State Board of Elections – that’s the fine Easley says he accepts personal responsibility for, but why doesn’t he pay it? The fine was levied in the same case where Democracy North Carolina filed a complaint against the NC Democratic Party for acting as an illegal conduit of money meant for the Mike Easley Committee, with supplement documentation to highlight the abuse. The Party forked over thousands of dollars as a result, and the Mike Easley Committee was also found guilty of benefitting from undisclosed airplane flights. Even though Democracy North Carolina filed this complaint against the Democratic Party (and the earlier one that triggered the state and federal investigation into Jim Black), some Republicans still say we’re a front for the Democratic Party whenever we criticize their practices. Go figure.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
A trio of small business federations today released a survey showing that two thirds of small business owners across the nation believe the Citizens United decision gives big corporations an unfair advantage over them. The Supreme Court decision from January 2010 allows businesses to spend unlimited amounts from their treasury to tell people how to vote. “America’s entrepreneurs feel corporations have an outsized role and say in politics to the detriment of the small business community,” said John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. The Supreme Court’s narrow 5-to-4 majority said campaign spending doesn’t win corporations political friends, or intimidate their enemies, because it must be “independent” of the candidate and can not be given directly to the candidate’s campaign. “Small business owners aren’t stupid,” countered Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine. “We know who wins when corporate heavy hitters can spend all the money they want, as secretively as they want, to influence our country’s elections – and it’s not us.” The survey also shows that by a margin of 7-to-1, small business owners think money plays a negative role in politics.
Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
The landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision, which gave corporations the political speech rights of people, will celebrate its second anniversary on January 21; its impact only grows worse each day. Jeff Clements has written a great book titled Corporations Are Not People that traces the shocking history of how business interests gained the rights of “we the people.” (Hint: The tobacco industry and its attorneys were deeply involved.) Here’s a link to a lively hour-long video interview with Jeff at a Demos breakfast last week. The book has its own valuable website with a very short video of Jeff with Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC, plus good pieces about “What the corporate takeover of the Constitution means to you,” who’s fighting back, and more.