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LOD: 250 Years of Scandal

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Mother Jones magazine has boiled the history of political money deals in the United States into a clever annotated timeline and a highly readable article, starring a host of shady characters in “a dramatic battle between the forces of reform and influence that goes back more than 250 years before the birth of the super-PAC.”


LOD: Inside View of Outside Money

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Because the State Board of Elections is starved for funds, the public gets a poor view of how money flows into our elections: Who is giving and spending what for whose benefit? While other states have searchable databases of donors, the backlog for processing campaign disclosure reports in NC is measured in years. (See, for example, this Democracy NC report on the backlog.) The problem is even worse when it comes to tracking the millions spent on elections by outside groups that are supposedly not coordinated with a candidate. Thankfully, here comes the Institute for Southern Studies with what it calls “North Carolina’s first searchable database of election-year spending by independent groups in state races. . . . FollowNCMoney.org gathers all reports on TV ads, mailers and other independent expenditures by outside groups in North Carolina, and places them in an easy-to-use searchable and sortable database. Users can sort the information by the name of the group spending the money, the date of the expenditure, the political race where it appears and the affected candidate.” ISS emphasizes that the site is “a beta release,” undergoing revisions and updates “largely because of gaps and inconsistencies in government reports.” Check it out, play around with the data, turn in your feedback! Thanks ISS/Facing South!


LOD: WhichWayNC.com

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Students at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication have created an interactive flow chart of the money in NC political campaigns with annotated descriptions of key terms. Visualize rivers of money. They’ve also just posted a series of articles about NC campaign finances on their WhichWayNC website and blog. Did you know that the two leading candidates for governor have already spent more than what an average North Carolinian would earn in 164 years? Another part of the website dissects and grades political advertisements: Good, bad and weird. Some parts of the website need updates, as well as fact-checking and corrections, but hey, nobody should think journalists are perfect. It’s a site that should become more useful as the fall semester and campaign season move into high gear.


LOD: The Rogue LaRoque

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

A federal grand jury has indicted state legislator Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-Kinston) on a variety of charges related to misusing federal funds received by two nonprofit lending outfits he created “to alleviate poverty and increase economic activity and employment in rural communities.” The charges follow an investigative series by NC Policy Watch and include stealing $300,000 from the federal government, failing to report substantial income to the IRS, and using criminally derived money to purchase jewelry, an ice rink, a home and other gifts for his wife and daughters. The indictment also says LaRoque funneled federal anti-poverty funds into his political campaign and loans for himself and various friends. Yesterday, House Speaker Thom Tillis forwarded the indictment to the legislative ethics committee and encouraged LaRoque, who serves as Tillis’ Rules Committee Co-Chair, to resign.


LOD: Sunshine Blocker

Friday, July 13th, 2012

A new bill in the US Senate to increase disclosure of campaign money again uses the title DISCLOSE Act, but Democratic sponsors have watered it down from last year’s version in the hopes of winning enough Republican support for passage. One report says the Senate bill, S. 3369 “does not prohibit campaign spending by foreign entities, TARP recipients, and government contractors. The bill also does not require companies to report campaign spending to shareholders, or require lobbyists to report campaign spending. But it would require reporting for each $10,000 in spending, and would subject companies, labor unions and super PACs to this rule. However, it would not require parties, candidate committees or charitable organizations to file these reports.” What’s the chance the slimmed-down bill can win a cloture vote later this month? Remarkably, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has just announced he’ll stick with Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and oppose the legislation, even though he has stepped up his criticism of the Citizens United decision in recent months, calling it “uninformed, arrogant, naïve.”  The Public Campaign Action Fund criticized McCain for putting partisan loyalty above the public interest and observed, “Until there’s a political price to pay for opposing reform and policies like DISCLOSE, politicians will look for any excuse to maintain the status quo.”


LOD: Carolina Business Coalition

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

There’s lots in the daily news of the doings and undoings in the General Assembly and elsewhere, but you may have missed coverage about this new electioneering operation sponsored by the Ayn Rand-wing of the North Carolina business establishment. The mainstream press hasn’t noticed yet. Public-interest investigator Greg Flynn reports that these White-Men-With-Too-Much-Money have hired attorney Roger Knight to craft a legal shell (the Carolina Business Coalition) to pump money into various state legislative elections, beginning next week with an ad buy exceeding $300,000 – without the public getting any information about where the money comes from! The media should on top of this, but where are they?


LOD: Citizens United’s Origins

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

The New Yorker this week has an in-depth account of the manipulations and blunders that inflated a narrow issue before the US Supreme Court into the now infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. The majority opinion didn’t need to make sense – it had 5 of the 9 votes, enough to win; the dissenting views were easily more compelling. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in dissent. “It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Read the article to understand the context of the opinions and significance of one or two appointments to the Supreme Court.


LOD: Lies and Damnable Lies

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Two national stories with NC connections: One, from the Los Angeles Times, dissects the damnable lies spewed forth in political advertisements sponsored by Americans for Prosperity. It’s not an accident that the deceitful ads attack alternative energy production as well as President Obama; the biggest backers of AFP are oil and gas mega-billionaires David and Charles Koch who don’t like competition from “green” alternatives or the implications of global warming for their industry. One of AFP’s four directors (and a major AFP donor) is Raleigh’s Art Pope, head of the Roses and Maxway chain of department stores. The tax-exempt, “social welfare” organization plans to spend $151 million during the 2012 election on this kind of “educational” ad, but the real source of that money is unknown. The article points out that Obama aims to ramp up his attack ads, too, but in that case you at least know who to hold accountable when you vote. The second story, from National Public Radio, profiles a series of meetings that ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is holding in Charlotte, bringing together top corporate lobbyists with state legislators across the nation to craft model legislation aimed at maximizing private profits and weakening government’s role in protecting the public’s health and welfare. The example NPR uses in its story is a bill to undercut a state attorney general’s ability to sue a utility company (a regulated monopoly) for gouging its customers. The Koch brothers and their corporations are heavy backers of ALEC as well.


LOD: State Integrity Index

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Maybe you’ve heard about the State Integrity Investigation that scored each state on the strength of its laws and practices governing campaign finances, lobbying regulations, ethics, access to government records, redistricting, etc.  Overall, North Carolina earned a C- and ranked 18th best among the 50 states, but in some areas it scored an A, in others an F. Here’s a link to the narrative and detailed tables about North Carolina. NC project coordinator Adam Hochberg begins the narrative with a story: “When an influential North Carolina lawmaker named Stephen LaRoque helped sponsor and pass a 2011 bill loosening regulations on billboards, he was the co-owner of five billboards and president of a firm that owned four others. But when LaRoque asked the North Carolina Ethics Commission to review his key legislative role, it found no conflict, citing what it called a “safe harbor” stemming from the fact that his law would benefit everyone owning billboards. The case reflected what many analysts say is the prevailing state of North Carolina’s ethics regulations: A lengthy set of rules has been enacted to help keep public officials honest, but enforcement has sometimes not been strict. They also complain that the extensive rules haven’t adequately curbed the influence of monied interests on state policymaking.”


LOD: Toxic Mix in Raleigh

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Despite promises of cleaning up what it called a “pay-to-play culture in Raleigh,” the new leadership in the General Assembly has done nothing to strengthen ethics or campaign finance laws. It hasn’t even enacted stronger disclosure laws to help the public’s right to know how money flows through the political system. Instead, as the Independent Weekly details, the Republican leadership in the NC House now appears to embrace a quid pro quo approach to passing legislation – campaign money is being traded for favorable public policy. Keep your eye on what happens next with proposed legislation to gut North Carolina’s regulation of chemicals pumped into the air by utilities, manufacturers and others. Will the millions invested in NC politics by the toxics lobby overcome our current public health standards? The NC Coastal Federation has a two-part profile (part one, part two) of what’s at stake, who’s involved, and why you should care about the outcome of a General Assembly committee considering this legislation today.


LOD: More Sunshine, Please

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The Center for Responsive Politics follows the “Shadow Money Trail” through the annual reports of foundations and business associations in order to uncover some of the millions spent by the Koch-Pope-Americans for Prosperity network for political advertising – but the source of most of the money remains hidden. What can be done? Even New Bern’s arch-conservative Sun Journal says Congress should pass much tougher disclosure requirements. More sunshine on the flow of money should be required by our General Assembly, too, despite the bad example set by House Speaker Thom Tillis. The Center for Responsive Politics’ posting also provides an update on another way to hold secretive conduits accountable: make the IRS stop giving tax breaks to 501(c)(4) and other entities that launder election donations.


LOD: Secrecy & Pay-to-Play

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.


LOD: Leading Reform

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.


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