Ethics Category

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

The Independent Weekly this week features a blockbuster series of investigative stories about the Art Pope empire. One big shocker: Pope failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes on his foundation’s earnings for YEARS, eventually begging the IRS for forgiveness with various lame excuses. So Pope turns out to be a miserly tax cheater – no, he’s just a distracted daddy. There are other nuggets in the stories. Did you know that the rightwing Civitas Institute depends on Pope’s foundation for 97% of its money? It’s basically a wholly owned subsidiary of Art Pope. The same goes for several other outfits under the Pope’s authority. The story on elections includes this gem from Pope: “If [my money] helped them win, especially in a close election, then wonderful, but that doesn’t mean I spent millions of dollars to buy the North Carolina legislature.”


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The evidence of inappropriate behavior is mounting: Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas not only attended an expense-paid strategy retreat with the Koch brothers and their corporate friends before the Citizens United ruling; it turns out that back in 1991 Citizens United spent $100,000 to support Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court. As recently as December 2010, Scalia conferred in secret with Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party Caucus, a group formed largely to fight healthcare reform. Asks Robert Reich, “Can you imagine the firestorm if Justice Sonia Sotomayor met in secret with the House Progressive Caucus?” Reich points out that Thomas’ wife is earning large sums for working with rightwing organizations, including lobbying against healthcare reform. Thomas has failed to disclose her earnings for years, in violation of Supreme Court rules, and Reich wonders if he’ll recuse himself when the challenge to the healthcare law hits the Court, as he should have with the Citizen United case. Common Cause keeps pressing for better information, despite attempts to tarnish its motives.


Vacation Island Donors Give $2 Million, Push for Jetties

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

For Release Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Contact: Bob Hall, 919-489-1931

Bill Sponsor Received $22,500 in 2010

As the legislature debates a controversial bill to allow construction of “terminal groins” along North Carolina’s beaches, a new study reveals that the bill’s chief sponsor and other state lawmakers have received $2 million in campaign donations from a group of groin advocates who own vacation homes on Figure 8 Island near Wilmington.
The group includes many of the richest, most powerful political donors in North Carolina. They have hired prominent Republican and Democratic lobbyists and created a political action committee (PAC) called the Island Preservation Society, which has donated more than $100,000 to lawmakers, according to the analysis by the nonpartisan group Democracy North Carolina.
Lobbyists for the Figure 8 Beach Homeowners Association include former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker and Joseph H. Lanier, former Sen. Jesse Helms’ legislative director. Donors to the Island Preservation Society PAC include restaurant owners Nick Boddie and Louis Sewell, investors William Armfield IV and Thomas Kenan III, publisher Frank Daniels Jr., developers Julian Rawl and Stephen Cornwell, contractors Earl Johnson Jr., John Bratton Jr. and Frank Dowd IV, auto dealers Fred Anderson and Linda Leith, beer wholesalers Lewis Nunnelee and Rodney Long, entrepreneurs Nat Harris and Charles Winston, and about 100 other civic and business leaders.
In addition to the PAC, the group of donors and their immediate families have given more than $1.8 million to state politicians since they began their pro-jetties campaign in late 2003 with a fundraising drive for then state Senate leader Marc Basnight. The Senate under Basnight repeatedly adopted bills to undo the state’s longstanding ban against groins, but the House and Speaker Joe Hackney blocked their passage. Basnight led all recipients with $14,000 from the Preservation Society PAC and $305,989 directly from its backers from Nov. 2003 to Dec. 2010. (See details on pages 2 and 3 of
Not all the homeowners on Figure 8 Island support the groins, and nearly all coastal geologists say they will hasten erosion for down-beach property. Nevertheless, the island’s groin advocates have stepped up their donations in the past two years, especially to Republicans.
State Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville), the main sponsor of Senate Bill 110 to allow terminal groins near inlets, received $22,500 in the 2010 election cycle from donors related to Figure 8 Island and the Preservation Society PAC, according to Democracy North Carolina. He received only $2,000 in the previous five years combined.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Eden) received $10,450 in 2010 from the donors, including $1,000 from the PAC, his first donations from these donors since the PAC began.
“The large role of private money in public elections puts good lawmakers and donors under added scrutiny,” said Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina. “The amount of money major donors can give and raise will make politicians pay attention, but legislation should stand on its merits, not depend on campaign donations. Republican leaders who said they opposed pay-to-play politics must now be careful not to practice what they preached against.”

For Release Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Contact: Bob Hall, 919-489-1931


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

You can listen to two 10-minute segments of a secretly taped conversation in which Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gushes about his bust-the-union strategies with a prankster playing the role of David Koch, the billionaire patron of Americans for Prosperity and numerous politicians. Walker describes various plans to trick and pressure Democrats; he encourages Koch to fund anti-union issue advertising and discusses the use of agent provocateurs to create havoc among the peaceful pro-union protesters; and he welcomes Koch’s offer of a free trip to California after his victory. The depth of right-wing financial support for Walker goes beyond the Koch brothers to a wider network carrying the torch of the rapid John Birch Society. But the Koch brothers have a special relationship with Walker, and now it turns out Walker’s state budget includes a provision that could help Koch industries take over various state heating and energy operations through a no-bid deal. Money doesn’t just get the ear of the governor you install in office, but profits from the public resources of his state.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday, February 21st, 2011

A shocking investigative report in Rolling Stone answers the question, “Why aren’t the Wall Street swindlers who brought down the world’s economy in jail?” Answer: They’re protected by the completely corrupt relationship between the crooks and the cops. They’re getting away with the biggest theft in world history because of the political payoffs, revolving door and cultural chumminess that glues together the financial chieftains at Citicorp, JP Morgan, AIG, etc. and high-ranking officials in the federal government, from the Securities and Exchange Commission to the White House. Ignore Matt Taibbi’s vulgarity and sad effort at gonzo journalism and focus on his reporting. Tidbit: No company’s executives gave more money to President Obama’s 2008 campaign than Goldman Sachs; and for his new chief of staff, he chose a top dog from JP Morgan. No wonder Obama can’t understand the rage people feel about the bank bailouts. Meanwhile, Public Campaign has a new report on the financial industry donations received by another group that can’t see straight, the majority of members of the House Financial Services Committee.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

With the blessing of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the US Chamber of Commerce has become even more aggressive in spending corporate money on political ads to tilt elections in its favor. Now it turns out the Chamber hired a group of reconnaissance experts to develop a plan to spy on and disrupt its political enemies. This is a heavy allegation but the evidence of its truth is piling up. Meanwhile, three Republican members of the Federal Election Commission are pursuing their own aggressive plan: They claim the Citizens United decision means corporations should be allowed to sponsor fundraising activities for a candidate’s election committee. They recognize that the decision didn’t allow direct corporate contributions to a candidate, but, following the Alice in Wonderland thinking of the Supreme Court majority, they declare that raising money for a candidate is not a contribution; it’s the “free speech” right of corporations.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Robert Lee Caldwell of Morganton was indicted on Tuesday in connection with Bev Perdue’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign . The prosecutor, Colon Willoughby, said there’s no evidence suggesting that Perdue or her staff knew that Caldwell used an illegal contribution to pay for a campaign air flight. However, he also said, “I would not be surprised to see more charges” related to the on-going state investigation. The US Attorney’s office is also looking into contributions made to Perdue’s campaign. Meanwhile, Billy Williams, former head of New Hanover County ABC liquor stores, was indicted on charges he used ABC funds to pay for construction of a two-story garage at his home. The contractor has already pleaded guilty for his part in the scam. Williams is the local liquor chief whose enormous salary and other perks sparked an uproar that led to exposure of similar abuses in other parts of the state and reverberated into calls to privatize the ABC system.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Three Democratic state Senate candidates (Don Davis, Margaret Dickson and Joe Sam Queen) are suing the NC Republican Party and their opponents in the 2010 election because allegedly (1) the party improperly used a media discount available to candidates to pay for multiple broadcast advertisements, and (2) the party violated the Stand By Your Ad law by not being identified in the ads. Blistering ads and mailers filled with inflammatory, false and grossly misleading statements made the past election one of the nastiest in recent years. Stand by for more in 2012 – unfortunately, a lot more! Speaking of misleading the public, Democracy North Carolina called out the Pope Civitas Institute for issuing polls it claims represent the views of “a fully representative sample of registered voters” but which are really its own views bouncing through an echo chamber of cherry-picked respondents. Amazingly, some mainstream media outlets repeat Pope Civitas “poll findings” as though they have credible news value.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Court Wars: For people interested in following the politics of advancing an independent, yet accountable judicial system in the United States, we recommend you subscribe to GavelGrab. Recent entries range from the call for a judge to recuse herself in the Rahm Emanual residency dispute, to a review of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s speech to the Tea Party Caucus in Congress. GavelGrab is the blog of Justice At State, a federation of nonpartisan national and local groups promoting fair courts. You can also occasionally check in with its special page featuring entries about public campaign financing and the courts. Several recent entries provide updates on judicial public financing programs now beginning in Wisconsin and West Virginia, as well as ours in North Carolina.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Kudos to the Independent Weekly for dissecting the octopus that is K & L Gates, the most powerful law firm “the Triangle has never heard of [and] one of the region’s most formidable and pervasive forces in development and politics.” Operatives with this global firm are behind dozens of projects in the Durham area and the Indie’s careful examination of their maneuverings is worthy of a national journalism prize and wide exposure.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Remember Tom DeLay, aka “The Hammer” – one of the most powerful men in Congress when George W. Bush was president? A judge sentenced the former US Representative from Texas to three years in prison for an elaborate scheme to funnel $190,000 in illegal corporate contributions into state elections. The money helped Republicans win a majority in the Texas legislature in 2002 – and then redraw the district lines so more Republicans from Texas could be elected to Congress.  DeLay laundered the corporate money by sending it through the national Republican Party and then back to help state legislative candidates in Texas. But it’s illegal for corporations to make contributions to state candidates in Texas, as it is in North Carolina. Interestingly, a few years before DeLay committed his crime, then Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker was performing a similar laundering job with corporate money to help his fellow Republicans win a majority in the North Carolina House in 1996. The brazen schemes of Brubaker and his associates are now more than a dozen years old, but they make for fascinating reading, especially in light of the GOP victory in 2010 and the Citizens United decision.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Remember the corrosive effect on NC politics of video poker and the lottery? Alabama is the latest state where gambling interests have upturned the political establishment – with federal indictments of state legislators involving six- and seven-figure bribes. The confession of a top lobbyist is awesome reading. You have to wonder how eager Gov. Perdue and NC legislative leaders are to wade into deep water with the crowd promoting sweepstakes poker for our state. Speaking of cash money and the sin industry, here’s a fascinating story about the political contributions given by beer wholesalers to dozens of members of Congress as the industry was seeking their sign-on to a crucial piece of legislation. The beer boys are huge contributors to state legislators, too. Can someone explain why they stepped up their giving in the 2010 election cycle to NC state legislators? Hmm. . . .


Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Ten years ago this week, the US Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore turned over the White House to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the losers of the national popular vote. The blatantly political decision to stop the Florida recount launched a new era of anti-social ideologues undermining the rights of real people in favor of corporate special interests in fields ranging from environmental protection to foreign policy, trade relations to criminal justice. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, coming a decade later, is a product of the same elitist mentality: diminish voter’s rights by maximizing the influence of private wealth in elections. On the anniversary of Bush v. Gore, John Nichols of The Nation proposes five practical reforms to increase voter participation. Also this week, the Nigerian government dropped its bribery charges against former VP Dick Cheney and other Halliburton officials after the company agreed to pay $250 million in fines. Halliburton had previously admitted to US authorities that it used bribery when Cheney led the company to gain a $6 billion contract with Nigeria. The background of this telling story of Cheney’s earlier corrupt leadership is at the Link of the Day for December 10, 2010.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010

This is a level of corruption that we don’t often see: The new government in Nigeria wants to charge Dick Cheney, the former vice president and chairman of Halliburton, in connection with $180 million in bribes paid to Nigerian lawmakers. The lawmakers awarded a $6 billion construction contract for a natural gas pipeline to Halliburton when Cheney led the company. Those are some big numbers! But consider these: Millionaires paid more than $200 million in bribes – oops, legal campaign contributions – to Members of Congress who are now maneuvering to award them a tax break worth $100 billion a year. And here’s another absolute outrage, a follow-up to the story (Link: 12/8/2010) about the Duke Energy executive in Charlotte, Jim Turner, who resigned in the midst of an embarrassing scandal involving job promises to top regulators overseeing the cost of Duke’s construction project in Indiana. Under pressure from angry citizens in Indiana, Duke has agreed to renegotiate how much it charges utility customers for its construction project. But now it turns out that Duke will pay Turner a $3.8 million severance package, plus a possible half-million-dollar bonus for 2010. So, contrary to being an embarrassment, Duke might as well as say, “Job well done, young man! We agree: screw the public, grow the profits.” The NC Utilities Commission should investigate whether the ratepayers of this regulated monopoly will be stuck with the bill for Turner’s misconduct or will it come out Duke’s shareholder profits. Who is holding corporations accountable for crossing the line? Should we invite the Nigerian government to North Carolina to teach us some lessons? In the post-Citizens United era, when corporations claim enlarged domain over elections, regulators and lawmakers, the public has every right to demand enlarged accountability for every mistake corporations make that affect our public life. Rights come with responsibilities.


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