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A new and distressing development in pay-to-play politics

Leaders in both major political parties in North Carolina have been guilty through the years of engaging in “pay-to-play” politics. Former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black was, of course, the poster child for this kind of corruption and wound up in prison as a result.

Now, this week, comes word of another disturbing pay-to-play incident in the state House.

As reported by Greensboro’s Yes Weekly and Raleigh’s News & Observer a candidate for the state House of Representatives told a group of Winston-Salem businesspeople the other day that she needed to raise more money for the House Republican cause in order to get a better committee assignment should she be elected to the House this fall.

This is from the Yes! Weekly article:

“Debra Conrad, a candidate for NC House, was telling a small group at a Tuesday luncheon hosted by the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce about the committees she would like to serve on.

‘Unfortunately, the more money you raise and give to the speaker, the better committee assignment you get,’ Conrad said. ‘I don’t like that situation.’”

House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office quickly denied Conrad’s claim, but she sounded pretty sure of herself in the article.

“Afterwards, Conrad explained, ‘The party wants the money funneled to a central source, which is the speaker as head of the caucus, to help the other candidates who are having a hard time.’

The candidate said Tillis has never told her directly that the amount of money she raises for other Republican candidates will determine whether she gets the committee assignments she wants, but she often receives e-mails from other candidates asking for money.

‘I’m feeling the pressure that it could be an association,’ Conrad said.”

If there’s anything to Conrad’s claim, this is extremely troubling news for our state. Pay-to-play politics of the kind described by Conrad are at the root of innumerable problems that plague our state’s politics and policies.

Let’s hope that there is a full investigation of Conrad’s claim and a truly complete explanation from the Speaker’s office as to how she could have gotten such an impression. And let’s also hope that this disturbing news breathes new life into efforts to find ways to bring real public financing (aka “voter owned elections”) to North Carolina so that no future state legislative candidate feels such pressure — real or imagined. 

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