Link-of-the-Day Category

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.


LOD: Corporate Disclosure Index

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Which companies are doing the best job of disclosing their political spending to their stockholders and the public? For several years, the Center for Political Accountability has led a growing campaign to make the biggest publicly traded companies see the wisdom in opening their books and lowering their exposure to the kind of attack that hit Target after its blundering donations to a regressive politician. Institutional pension funds, religious agencies, unions and other large stockholders have sided with CPA on disclosure resolutions at stockholder meetings, and key corporate leaders are jumping on the bandwagon to jawbone their peers, as this NPR segment reports. Now CPA has teamed up with academics to produce an Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability. At the top of the list are Colgate-Palmolive, IBM and Merck; companies at the bottom include Lowe’s Cos., Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Halliburton.


LOD: Justice at Stake

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

A trio of groups that analyze judicial elections today released a report documenting a national campaign “to intimidate America’s state judges into becoming accountable to money and ideologies instead of the Constitution and the law.” The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2010 examines the “hostile takeover” of judicial elections by special interests and the attacks on impartial courts by state legislatures. The report was written by the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

North Carolina is held up as a national model because it provides state judicial candidates with a viable public financing alternative to the private money chase. The pioneering program has earned acclaim from reformers, the American Bar Association, and NC judges across the political spectrum. A blog entry today by Mark Binker at the Greensboro News & Record notes that Republican leaders in the NC General Assembly plan to keep the program, but delete a rescue-funds provision that mirrors one struck down by the US Supreme Court. The public grants and a state voter guide are not funded from the NC General Fund. A similar program for some Council of State offices will be suspended because it only has money from the General Fund; efforts last year to provide an independent source of funding for that Voter-Owned Elections program were stymied.


LOD: Serving the Public

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

So who do you want your Insurance Commissioner listening to when it comes time to regulate insurance rates? The public or the insurance companies? If the private companies supply the bulk of the commissioner’s campaign money, you can bet they’ll have an insider’s advantage. That’s one powerful reason why we need the Voter-Owned Elections program for NC Insurance Commissioner to continue. It gives candidates for the office an option: They can reject special-interest money, raise hundreds of small donations from voters, and earn access to a public campaign fund that allows them to stay loyal to the public interest. In 2008, the program meant that the Democratic and Republican candidates for IC raised only 5% of their total campaign funds from donors tied to industries regulated by the office; that’s an amazing drop from the 66% supplied by special interests in 2004 before the VOE program began. Unfortunately, legislative leaders are draining the VOE program of its money and pushing IC candidates onto “the money train,” as Common Cause’s Bob Phillips calls it in this article today about Commissioner Wayne Goodwin’s current fundraising travels. If people don’t like their local, state and federal candidates chasing the private dollars, they need to give them a meaningful public funding option. The payoff is huge: In 2009, Goodwin fought the auto insurance industry’s rate increase and eventually won a settlement that returned $102 to the average auto owner and cut the rate hike by $50 million a year.


LOD: Money for Lawmakers

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Here’s a story that deserves more attention: NC House Rules Co-chair Stephen LaRoque (R-Kinston) loaned his for-profit management company $200,000 from a non-profit organization that he set up to channel federal small-business loans to high risk ventures in rural North Carolina – and then he refused to disclose this insider dealing on the non-profit’s report to the IRS – abuses begging for state and federal investigation. The story, by Sarah Ovaska, is part of the on-going series on NC Policy Watch’s investigative blog; why aren’t more reporters digging into this unraveling scandal. Another blog, this one by Kirk Ross, provides the details of state Rep. David Rouzer’s new campaign finance report for his bid to Congress – piles of money from state lobbyists, hog farmers, state PACs, etc. You’ll recall that Rouzer (R-Benson) held a big fundraising event in late September hosted by several Raleigh lobbyists; because Rouzer is running for a federal office, the event didn’t violate the NC law against a state legislator raising money from lobbyists. Maybe his campaign will turn his cynical use of fundraising loopholes into an asset for serving in Congress. The Winston-Salem Journal describes how the money chase affects Congressional candidates, even those with weak opposition, including Democrat Mel Watt and Republican Virginia Foxx. Without a public campaign financing alternative, they all hustle the private money suppliers and often funnel a hefty amount into their party’s caucus accounts to shore up colleagues in tight races. Holding or gaining power takes a lot of money, and that’s a trap. The demand of the Occupy movement to stop corporate-financed elections requires, at a minimum, a strong public financing alternative to challenge the status quo.


LOD: Take Action on Art Pope

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Sign this petition: http://bit.ly/cut-the-strings-petition. And then pass this link along to 4 others.


LOD: Duke, Progress & Political $$

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

The behemoth created by the proposed merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy would not only yield the nation’s largest electric utility. The new creature would become the most politically influential corporation in NC, according to a new analysis by Democracy North Carolina. Duke and Progress Energy have long sponsored PACs that rank among the top 10 in the state; together, they would surpass Bank of America to form the largest corporate PAC in North Carolina. Charts compiled by Democracy NC show that their utilities’ combined spending to lobby and donate to NC and federal policymakers hit $19 million in the 2009-2010 cycle and a total of $52 million over the past eight years. In the 2010 election, 115 of the 170 state legislative winners got a donation from one or both of the utilities; one-fourth of the legislators got at least $3,500 and the top legislative leaders from both parties received at least $13,000 each. Will all this money and the companies’ other ways of accumulating goodwill give them an even bigger advantage over their critics? Says the report, “Policymakers often act like the utilities are the experts on energy issues but the public has a right to know that alternative perspectives and better strategies are not being overlooked because of the utilities’ money and lobbying muscle.”


LOD: Funding->Performance

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

The State Auditor’s office issued a report criticizing the State Board of Elections’ failure to process campaign finance reports in a timely manner and hold late report filers accountable. Democracy NC has identified similar problems, including our May report pointing out that 42% of the campaign reports for the legislative winners in 2010 had not been entered into the Board’s database, the first step in its review process. The State Auditor’s report reveals the scope of the problem: “At the time of our audit, there were over 30,000 reports that had not been audited. Some of these unaudited reports date back to the 2000 election. The receipts and expenditures for approximately 10,000 of those reports had not been entered in the campaign finance database, which is necessary before an audit can be performed since many of the audit procedures are performed electronically. For the 2010 election cycle . . . 6,578 of the 10,931 reports still had not been entered in the database and therefore had not been audited within the timeframe required.”

Why is the backlog so large? A blog entry and editorial by the Greensboro News & Record suggest it may be purposeful negligence by state legislators who don’t want their reports dissected. Except for a brief period after the conviction of House Speaker Jim Black, the State Board has been chronically understaffed and underfunded by the General Assembly. Meanwhile, some legislators want to merge the campaign finance section into a combined agency with the State Ethics Commission and lobbyist regulation office of the Secretary of State. They better be prepared to put up a lot more money to make it possible for all of these duties to be properly fulfilled.



LOD: Art Pope Exposed?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The New Yorker’s profile of Art Pope last week helped pull back the curtain to reveal more about the 40 million dollar man prodding the right-wing’s recent successes in North Carolina. Rachel Maddow/MSNBC followed with a long segment that put his 2010 electoral victories in a national context for 2012 (jump ahead 7 minutes for the lead-in about NC). The state press has largely responded with embarrassing defensiveness: Well, we already reported all that stuff and besides, he doesn’t “control” state politics. The Institute for Southern Studies has launched ArtPopeExposed.org, peeling back more layers, including a new entry exposing the hypocrisy of Pope’s claim that he’s a self-made man. What a telling fantasy: Pope’s worldview depends on believing that people begin life with equal resources and opportunity. Meanwhile, Politico has a new story that indicates Pope is working with his friends David and Charles Koch on a national strategy to pump $200 million into conservative groups ahead of the 2012 election. The story highlights the fascinating collaboration and recurring strains between the anti-government Koch/Pope operation and the equally ambitious political network led by Republican operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. The state’s media devoted tons of resources to follow native son John Edwards into national stardom; can it do the anything similar for Art Pope?




LOD: NC Called “State for Sale”

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Following up Friday’s LOD, here’s the link to the in-depth profile of Art Pope, his mind, money and rise to power. The New Yorker is known for its long and comprehensive pieces, and this one lives up to the reputation. It’s titled “State for Sale.” See also links to the analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies of Pope’s crucial role in the Republican’s 2010 takeover of the NC General Assembly, and charts by Democracy North Carolina on his $40 million in political contributions and majority stake in a network of ultra-conservative think tanks and advocacy groups.


LOD: The 40 Million Dollar Man

Friday, September 30th, 2011

The Oct. 10 edition of The New Yorker magazine features an in-depth look at North Carolina’s most politically powerful unelected individual – J. Arthur “Art” Pope, chain-store retailer and Republican patron. One measure of Pope’s power comes from an accounting of his political spending in a set of two charts prepared by Democracy North Carolina for The New Yorker. The charts detail over $40 million that Pope has steered into his favorite causes from his family, his family’s foundation (John W. Pope Foundation), and his family’s business (Variety Wholesaler, owner of the Rose’s, Maxway, and Super Dollar retail merchandise chains that cater to lower-income consumers).

    ● In the past 10 years, Pope has pumped $3 million into state and national politics and $35 million in a network of North Carolina nonprofit think tanks and advocacy groups that push a libertarian and ultra-conservative agenda.

    ● In addition to these funds, he has invested millions in national conservative organizations that he helps lead as a board member, trustee or advisor (see second part of chart of foundation grants). At the top of this list is a $2.2 million investment over the past decade in Americans for Prosperity, where Pope is one of the four board members along with its founder, David Koch. AFP is credited with financing and nurturing the national Tea Party movement; one of AFP’s strongest chapters is in North Carolina.

    ● Pope’s biggest investment by far has been in the John Locke Foundation, which he co-founded and helps direct from his board position; his family foundation accounts for $19.7 million or 79% of JLF’s $25.0 million income for FY 2001-2010.

    ● Pope is also a board member and the source of over 90% of the funds for the Pope Civitas Institute, named for his father ($8.0 million over the past decade); the NC Institute for Constitutional Law ($3.3 million); and Pope Center for Higher Education ($3.0 million).

    ● Pope family members frequently bundle their campaign contributions together, beginning the practice when Art’s father (John W. Pope, now deceased) was a prominent Republican donor. In the landmark 2010 election, Art provided NC General Assembly candidates with bundled contributions (totaling up to $16,000 per candidate) from himself, his wife, his mother, and his sister; 21 GOP legislative candidates received a total of $252,000 from these bundles in 2010.

    Another measure of Pope’s power comes from an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies of his influence in the pivotal 2010 election. Along with his family’s donations to candidates, Pope helped lead and finance three organizations that spent money on mailers and attack ads in selected races; the combined investment totaled $2.2 million in 22 pivotal legislative contests. Republicans won 18 and took control of the General Assembly. Pope’s Variety Stores gave $470,000 to the three groups (Real Jobs NC, Civitas Action, and Americans for Prosperity), and Pope is an officer of each or its nonprofit, c-3 affiliate. The Institute is continuing its investigation of “Pope’s empire” on its special website, ArtPopeExposed.com.

   Former State Senator Marc Basnight, backed by the money of oil baron Walter Davis, reigned for many years as the state’s top political heavyweight – but Davis is dead, Basnight has retired from politics, and the NC General Assembly is now controlled by Republicans. Some thought North Carolina would never see another person with Basnight’s clout, but Art Pope could have a bright future as kingmaker and behind-the-curtain Wizard of GOP.

   You’re invited to sign a Democracy NC petition against the kind of corporate interference in public elections epitomized by Pope’s use of his corporation’s money.


LOD: Citizens United Kickback

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Two national campaign reform groups are asking the IRS to take away the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations that are electioneering shells, not genuine “social welfare” organizations as required by law. The letter challenges four Republican- and Democratic-leaning non-profits. Democracy NC has promoted this approach to cope with the expanded use of non-profits after the Citizens United decision. Using c-4 and c-6 vehicles allows corporations and wealthy donors to remain unknown to the public, and many of them lower their tax bills by deducting their donations as business expenses. Art Pope’s Variety Stores may have done exactly that with the $470,000 it donated to Civitas Action, Americans for Prosperity and Real Jobs NC (a 527 organization) for electioneering in key 2010 legislative contests. Variety’s money only became known because North Carolina’s disclosure laws are stronger than those at the national level. Hopefully, the reform groups will continue to press their case and make these donations taxable gifts rather than tax dodges.


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