Commentary

“Second” legislative session allows legislative leaders to evade rules on raising money from lobbyists

House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore

It’s been déjà vu all over again this week in Raleigh. Two weeks ago, right before what seemed at the time to be the one and only “first” day of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers crammed in some last minute fundraising just hours before the session began.

The details of all this are a smidge complex. State law bars lobbyists from making contributions to candidates and their committee at any time, but of course, some folks don’t register as lobbyists until after the session commences. The law also effectively bars lobbyists from making any kind of contributions (even to party committees) once the General Assembly is in session. The bottom line though is that the law provides a real incentive for lawmakers to stick up the lobbying community right before the gavel sounds to open the session.

This week, however, just a few days later, the whole absurd spectacle was repeated. This past Tuesday night for instance, House Speaker Tim Moore hosted a “2015 Opening Day Celebration” at the City Club in downtown Raleigh to shake down the lobbying corps yet again.

So, “how’d he pull that off?” you ask. “Aren’t such fundraisers effectively barred once the session gets underway?”

Well, it turns out that when legislators went home on January 14, they technically “adjourned” — even though Moore has been busy appointing committee chairs and all sorts of legislative activity has been taking place. This fiction of “adjournment” allowed lawmakers to claim that they were not in session so that they could go back to collecting cash from people and groups with business before the G.A.

The House GOP fundraiser announcement even contained the following not-so-subtle reminder in fine print at the bottom: “Lobbyists registered in North Carolina are not prohibited from contributing to the NC Republican House Caucus.”

Indeed, as it turned out, Tuesday was a fine day for lobbyists to pony up. Just hours before the City Club soirée, Moore released the new list of House Committee chairs. For lobbyists contemplating spending the next several months appearing before, say, the House Insurance or Public Utilities Committee, the message was hard to miss: “Show up at at the ‘Opening Day Celebration’ and pony up some cash ($5,000 would have gotten you 10 tickets and admission to a special ‘photo op reception’) if you want to…ahem…enhance your relationship with the folks making decisions about your bills. ”

All of this stinks, of course, and ought to be unlawful.

The Democrats used to do things like this when they were in power and some of it got cleaned up in the wake of the Jim Black scandal. Unfortunately, as this week’s shenanigans demonstrate, GOP leaders have no compunction about pushing the envelope of the reformed law in order to scoop as much “pay to play” cash as possible.

Keep all this mind the next time you hear Moore or some other legislative leader wax poetic about their deep commitment to advancing the cause of government “reform.”

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