The State Board of Elections could decide next week whether to open a formal investigation into possible illegal behavior related to campaign contributions connected with the sweepstakes gaming industry.
The watchdog group Democracy North Carolina got the board’s attention with two reports last month that called into question donations by Chase Burns, the single biggest individual donor to General Assembly candidates in 2012, and the role of lobbyists tied to Moore & Van Allen in receiving, transferring or delivering some of those contributions. You can read Democracy NC’s reports here and here as well as their April 19th letter to the Board of Elections here.
The tangled web of special interest money has the Wilmington-Star News weighing in with this editorial in Friday’s paper:
‘Republicans shouldn’t be surprised by questions arising from news that Gov. Pat McCrory’s former employer distributed more than $200,000 to North Carolina political campaigns – including McCrory’s – from a sweepstakes company whose owners were indicted in Florida. They asked similar questions about contributions to his Democratic predecessors’ campaigns. It all boils down to the resilience of the pay-to-play mentality in North Carolina politics.
McCrory and several prominent lawmakers returned or donated to charity the amount donated to their campaigns by Oklahoma-based International Internet Technologies, whose owners are under indictment on a charge of using a charitable front to collect millions in untaxed dollars from sweepstakes operations. But Democracy North Carolina, a longtime watchdog in the arena of campaign finance, has filed a request that the State Board of Elections investigate the contributions and the involvement of McCrory’s firm.
An even more important question is whether hard-fought efforts to curb the influence of big money will have any effect in Raleigh.
The governor was still working for a Charlotte lobbying firm, Moore & Van Allen, which passed out checks totaling $235,000 to 67 North Carolina legislative campaigns and McCrory’s campaign in the 2012 election cycle. Chase Burns, who with his wife owns IIT, was the largest single donor to North Carolina candidates in the most recent election. According to the Associated Press, many of the checks were mailed out just before the general election in November.
McCrory did not have a hand in passing out those checks, but his association with the firm is such that it demands answers.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reported this week that at least some of the sweepstakes operators who banded together to hire Moore & Van Allen did so with the expectation that money would talk in their ongoing bid to legalize video gambling. The governor has said he doesn’t support such a measure, but voters know all too well that special-interest money comes with expectations attached.
An investigation will determine whether laws were violated. But the situation speaks loudly to the need for North Carolina to push harder to reduce the influence of big money in state campaigns, and to require more openness in campaign finance reporting.
McCrory and his GOP brethren should lead the charge to widen the “off-limits” zone between special interests and political campaigns, but instead one Republican lawmaker wants to turn back the clock to a time when lobbyists could lavish gifts on legislators whose votes they coveted.
Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, filed a bill that would allow lobbyists to once again lavish gifts on lawmakers and other public servants whose favor they seek. One wonders what happened to the GOP that rallied behind the ban on gifts after a check scandal that sent former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black to prison.
Repealing the ban would be a very bad idea, and apparently some legislative leaders understand the implications. House Bill 640 has been sidelined to the House Rules Committee, where it should be allowed to die a rapid death. As should any legislation that seeks to rescind laws attempting to prevent special interests from having too much influence on legislation.
If anything, the Honorables and McCrory should work to toughen those laws.’