Money in Politics Category

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

A significant number of legislators in Raleigh seem determined to help big political donors gut regulations and overturn state laws that protect consumers, public health and the environment. The poor state of accessible campaign finance data makes it difficult to track the pay-to-play culture, but Democracy North Carolina has highlighted the undue influence in several cases involving telecommunications firms, coastal landowners, and billboard companies. Despite promises by the new Republican leaders to cut the strings to big donors, each day seems to bring another proposal that benefits a group of private patrons at the expense of the common good. Even Republican strategist Carter Wrenn flogs Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) for helping vacation homeowners with special-interest legislation that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars. (For more about Sen. Brown and coastal donors, see the charts with our report.)


Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the sustained agitation of citizen activists, there are now positive signs that the New York legislature could adopt a public financing program for state elections during this legislative cycle. The program will likely follow the model used in New York City elections, where small-dollar donations raised by qualifying candidates are matched with a substantial multiple, e.g., a $5 grant for each $1 raised from small donors, up to a maximum limit. That model avoids the “rescue funds” provisions in North Carolina and other Voter-Owned Elections programs that provide additional grants to match the money of a large spending opponent; arguments about the constitutionality of that provision will be heard in the US Supreme Court on March 28. If the Court rules against rescue funds, NC and other programs will likely shift to the NYC model. The New York experience illustrates the enduring value of public campaign financing – and the value of the long-haul perspective for achieving political change.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Here’s a sobering essay from Forbes magazine (“the capitalist tool”) about a two-pronged plan by the super-rich in the U.S. to gain even more political clout and wealth at the expense of the middle and working classes. Business publications (like Business Week and Fortune) are so much more straightforward in explaining how capitalism works than the bashful mainstream press. Rick Ungar’s meandering essay explains how gutting the union’s bargaining rights in Wisconsin includes a larger campaign to end the payroll check-off programs that allow public employees to painlessly send a few dollars of each paycheck to their union. The money adds up and gives organized labor the capacity to challenge pro-business political donors in some arenas (although it’s worth noting that the total assets of all unions in the U.S. equal less than the bonuses Goldman Sachs paid its executives in 2007-2009). Ungar says ending the check-off is especially important to business now that Citizen United decision allows labor to spend its general treasury money on ads for specific candidates. He then explains a second stick-it-to-the-needy strategy that is gaining support from leading Democrats and Republicans; it’s actually decades old and we see it here in North Carolina: policymakers are cutting corporate taxes or increasing business subsidies while pushing more costs onto the poor and middle-class taxpayer, pensioner and public employee. Ungar says the business elite are tired of paying for warfare and welfare; taxes are for suckers. Sharing the financial windfall from the increased productivity of a computerized workplace is also unthinkable. Hence, we’re back to the biggest gap between the rich and everybody else since the Robber Barons, and it’s growing wider.


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.”


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Here’s a nifty video that makes sense of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision – and explains the need for a Constitutional amendment to clarify that corporations don’t have “free speech” rights as “people” to spend unlimited money buying elections. There are a number of other links from the site for Free Speech for People, including the wording of the proposed brief amendment. The Center for Responsive Politics has updated its study of the total funds that outside groups spent telling people how to vote in the 2010 election, with conservative-backed entities dwarfing the liberal spenders, thanks largely due to the Citizen United ruling. The consequences of the corporate takeover are found in the stream of legislation being debated in the US House, which follows this theme: if the bill helps business owners, pass it even if it puts a bigger hole in the budget, but if it’s a federal program or regulation that has helped ordinary people’s health and welfare, now’s the time to kill it. Closer to home, the takeover at the General Assembly is spawning a rash of greed-fueled measures, including the revival of the billboard industry’s effort to overrule local ordinances with a proposed state law granting the industry new powers to expand along highways and roadsides.


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


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Democracy North Carolina weighs in on the controversial proposal to build special jetties or “terminal groins” near coastal inlets: Our media release today documents the millions of campaign dollars given by vacation homeowners advocating for the groins, and we caution legislators, especially those who say they’re against pay-to-play politics, please evaluate this legislation based on its own merits, not the glitter of campaign money. A joint op-ed column by right-winger John Hood of the John Locke Foundation and environmentalist Todd Miller of the NC Coastal Federation raises real concerns that the legislation is a taxpayer bailout of private landowners and amounts to throwing piles money into the ocean.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday, February 25th, 2011

How much did Art Pope and his co-conspirators spend to flip the General Assembly? The pro-business NC FreeEnterprise Foundation has crunched more numbers and concludes, “The total amount spent by 11 outside groups vying to influence the outcome of elections for the State Legislature was $2,635,297.86, with nearly 92 percent of those funds being used to support Republican candidates.” The 10-to-1 ratio for Republicans is unprecedented in modern times. NCFEF provides several detailed charts with its updated release from a few weeks ago. Pundits across the political spectrum agree with NCFEF’s assessment: “Overall, it is safe to say that outside spending played a pivotal role in North Carolina’s 2010 legislative elections. Considering the impact, and the increasing competitive political nature of the state, it is also a safe bet that we will see continued growth in independent expenditure and electioneering communication activities in elections to come.”


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.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday, February 14th, 2011

What can be done about the unhealthy role of large private contributions in judicial elections? North Carolina led the nation by modifying the “clean elections” model of public financing to apply to judicial campaigns. In contrast to providing a positive alternative, New York is about to impose a new restriction on judges: you must not hear cases involving attorneys or parties in the dispute who have given more than $2,500 in the previous two years to your campaign. The New York Times article gives a good overview of the recent history of big money’s damaging influence in judicial elections, with multiple links. New York’s Administrative Board of the Courts adopted the ban on judges hearing certain cases as a means to protect the integrity of the court system. “Nothing could be more important for the judiciary than to have the public see that we’re neutral arbiters of disputes,” said Jonathan Lippman, the state’s chief judge. “If we don’t have that, we don’t have anything.”


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

A Wall Street insider newsletter provides this useful profile of the wave of stockholder resolutions demanding that companies disclose their political spending, including their donations to trade associations (e.g., the US Chamber of Commerce) that shield a corporation’s partisan activity from public scrutiny. Churches, pension fund managers, social investment funds and others are using their voting power to pressure corporations to tell stock owners and the public how they may be taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

The Public Campaign Action Fund has a new report out today that details the grip the energy industry has on members of the US House Committee on Energy & Commerce. The report arrives as the Energy & Power Subcommittee convenes to debate a Republican effort to weaken the Clean Air Act. It not only profiles the direct contributions to Subcommittee members but also the help they received from the election spending of the network of anti-regulation groups funded by the Koch brothers. “Energy interests spent big in 2010 to get their preferred candidates elected to office, and we are seeing an early return on that investment,” said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign Action Fund. “Decisions to protect public health should be made without regard to campaign cash from oil and coal interests. Sadly that’s apparently not the case.” Think Progress reveals just how warped the hearing today will be; the list of expert witnesses and the bill under debate are the result of close collaboration with lobbyists for major polluters.


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.


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