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LOD: Two Nasties, One Target

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.


LOD: MT Judges Slam US Supremes

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

As the second anniversary of Citizens United approaches (Jan. 21), the corruption flowing from that decision is becoming more apparent. The Supreme Court declared that independent groups can not corrupt the political process, but the dominant role of Super PACs in the Republican primary is just the latest evidence that their decision was based on bias, not fact. Now another court has stepped up to tell the Supremes exactly that. The Montana Supreme Court rejected the Citizens United ruling, saying the evidence shows that independent spenders can and do wield enough influence to corrupt politics. “Organizations like WTP [a corporate political group] that act as a conduit for anonymously spending by others represent a threat to the political marketplace,” wrote Mike McGrath, Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, for the majority. “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.” Even the dissenting judges in the 5-2 decision upholding Montana law denounced the US Supreme Court. “While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s decision,” wrote Justice James C. Nelson, in his dissent. “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield enormous power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins: the transition is seamless and overlapping.” If the Montana case gets a fair hearing on appeal at the Supreme Court, it will completely expose that majority’s hypocrisy and corruption of judicial duty.


LOD: MoJo on Dirty Money

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The first issue of 2012 from Mother Jones has a series of articles dissecting the secretive, seductive direct money that is crippling our entire society. It includes a roadmap for “How to Buy An Elections” and one story (“Occupied Washington”) you can readily access, but the other juicy material requires you to sign in. Worth the connection.


LOD: Perdue Campaigners Indicted

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Three individuals on the inside of Bev Perdue’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign were indicted today – not by the feds but by a Wake County grand jury. According to the News & Observer, the indictments allege that a top fundraiser for candidate Perdue “schemed to pay a staffer $32,000 for work that was kept off the books in violation of state election laws.” The felony charges result from a year-plus investigation into the campaign’s handing of finances, including hiding in-kind donations of airplane flights and other donations that would put the donor over contribution limits. The charges include obstructing justice and failure to report campaign finances. As the N&O report continues: “Earlier this year a retired state magistrate was charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to hide an illegal campaign flight. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has said that Perdue, a former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker, is not a target of the probe, but today’s indictment reached into the campaign’s inner circle. ‘The conduct of the governor has not been an issue, nor any other elected official,’ Willoughby said. ‘She cooperated in the investigation, was interviewed. We asked her not to talk about the facts of the case. We thought it might be inappropriate, and there might be additional charges.’” The Associated Press story is here, and the brief indictments for each charge are here.


LOD: Colbert’s Super Magic

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

What can those new Super PACs do with their money. Stephen Colbert’s ad with presidential candidate Buddy Roemer gives you the clue. Meanwhile, Larry Lessig of Rootstrikers is joining with Dylan Ratigan’s “Get Money Out” to create a new organization to work against special-interest control of government: United Republic. Lessig also has a new book out about the corrupting culture of dependency that dominates Congress. As one reviewer said, “If anything unites the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street protesters, surely it is the sense that the system is rigged in favor of big shots in Washington and against little guys back home. Money is at the heart of it.”


LOD: Speaking of Democracy NC

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch recently interviewed Bob Hall, our executive director, for his radio show. Their brief audio conversation amounts to a quick tour through Democracy NC’s hot topics: Duke Energy buying an inside track for its rate hike and merger, the dirt you find when you dig into piles of special-interest money, election disasters on the horizon, and more. Meanwhile, Progress NC recently honored Hall and Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies for their investigative research into Art Pope’s empire that became the basis for the New Yorker’s expose of Pope. Your support of Democracy NC, through your activism and donations, makes all our work possible. PS: An invitation to donate may be arriving in the mail soon! THANKS!


LOD: 9 Ways to Buy An Elections

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the Federal Election Commission relaxed more of its rules to regulate political spending. Wealthy individuals and trade groups, as well as corporations and unions, now have a wide variety of ways to exert even more influence over an election’s outcome.  The New York Times boils the campaign finance rules down to a clever interactive guide for the 9 ways to invest $25 to $10,000,000 in a political campaign, with various degrees of privacy and impact. The Supreme Court majority essentially says all these ways to spend money are expressions of your right to “free speech,” protected by the First Amendment. Here’s a clear video explanation of why controlling undue corporate domination of elections will likely require changing the U.S. Constitution and the Court’s view of the First Amendment. A group of Senators has introduced an amendment that is less sweeping but aims to restore society’s ability to regulate “free speech” that is really paid electioneering.



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: 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: 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.


LOD: Citizens United Update

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Two more developments in the evolving world after the Citizens United decision: One is a legislative response by the Congressional brain trust of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). They have introduced a bill that calls for an amendment to the US Constitution to give Congress and the states authority to regulate political spending by corporations. “It is individual voters who should determine the future of this nation, not corporate money,” said Conyers. The Conyers-Edward bill, first introduced last year, will likely not get very far under the GOP-controlled Congress, but it deserves support from Tea Party populists who oppose wealthy special-interest controlling government. In a second development, the New York Times notes that lower courts are using the Citizens United’s positive emphasis on the value of rapid disclosure to strike down rightwing attacks on various state laws requiring detailed reports from electioneering groups. If we’re stuck with corporate-funded politics, legislators in Washington and state capitals should be much more aggressive in demanding full disclosure of the real donors behind the big-time spenders with sweet sounding names like Americans for Apple Pie.


LOD: Thumb’s Up, Down for Legs

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Rep. Steve LaRoque’s home newspaper in Kinston got him to talk about the Policy Watch investigation of his use of two government-funded nonprofits to benefit himself, his family, and his political associates. The paper is owned by the Libertarian-leaning Freedom Communications chain, so it is noteworthy that the story didn’t end when LaRoque dismissed everything as a liberal conspiracy full of lies; indeed, the paper presented a balanced account and let Kinston readers hear from independent experts who added credibility to Policy Watch’s analysis of LaRoque’s inappropriate dealings. Meanwhile, House Speaker Thom Tillis received an award from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as one the nation’s “best legislators of the year.” Tillis and 31 other NC state legislators are attending the ALEC meeting in New Orleans, no doubt picking up more “model legislation” from the group, per our earlier account. The Sunshine Award that Democracy North Carolina recently presented to 22 legislators is also gaining attention in their hometown media (e.g., in Burlington, Fayetteville and Jacksonville). The award honors legislators for ”demonstrating respect for the public’s right-to-know through the superior quality of your campaign disclosure reports in the 2010 election.” The money chase is well underway for the 2012 cycle, with both state parties pulling in nearly half a million dollars in the first six months of 2011, most of it raised by their respective legislative caucuses. Whether you give the General Assembly a thumb’s up or down, money will be gushing at records levels for the 2012 showdown.


LOD: Access to Budget Cutters

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Practical lobbyists in Washington are telling their clients to open their checkbooks because their ox may be gored by the Super 12 – the yet-to-be-named bipartisan committee of US Senators and Representatives who will recommend where to make additional budget cuts of at least $1.2 trillion. One lobbyist said he’s writing 12 big checks to ensure an inside advantage for his clients. Other practical observers believe the committee will end in another super-charged partisan stalemate, which will trigger indiscriminate across-the-board spending cuts. But lobbyists profit when groups are fighting for favors or protection, and in this case the healthcare industry and defense contractors are especially vulnerable (because of bloated subsidies) so expect to see them making large investments in their lobbyists – and in contributions to the Super 12. As a pre-emptive strike, our friends at Public Campaign are demanding that the Super 12 agree not to accept any political donations and also disclose all meetings with lobbyists. They’re asking you to sign a petition to get that message across, and a cadre of good government groups are joining in their letter making the core demand. The Sunlight Foundation also wants all the meetings of the Super 12 open, with maximum transparency in everything, even if it promotes grandstanding as much as a grander deal for the public.


LOD: Let the Sunshine In

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Democracy North Carolina today awarded 22 state legislators its Sunshine Award for the superior quality of their campaign disclosure reports filed during the 2010 election cycle. The first reports for the 2012 election are due on Friday – it’s the beginning of a super-sized, record breaking cycle. The 22 winners were the only legislators who met several criteria described in a press release that also highlights problems with the lack of resources for auditing reports. Because of staff cutbacks, thousands of reports filed with the State Board of Elections have not been reviewed for compliance with the basic requirements of NC’s disclosure law. The reports for House Speaker Thom Tillis lacked the occupational descriptions for dozens of his donors, going back to 2006, but it turns out his campaign treasurer didn’t realize that information was part of the public filing. Once notified by our questions, he filed amendments with the missing information. Other committees routinely leave out addresses for donors or the purpose of payments or make bigger mistakes that could be corrected by requiring electronic reporting for quicker public access and staff review.


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