Commentary, Defending Democracy

Hayes-Lindberg scandal demands a revival of publicly financed elections

More than 80 percent of Americans believe that elected officials do favors for big campaign donors, according to a recent national poll. Recently, a billionaire campaign donor attempted to secure just such a favor—right here in North Carolina. With the chairman of the state Republican Party Robin Hayes (pictured at left) recently indicted in a scheme to undermine the public trust by orchestrating a bribe of state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, it’s clear that protections that shield our democracy from abuse are broken.

Time and time again, we see it’s too easy for moneyed special interests to crowd out everyday people in backroom deals. The indictment of Hayes paints a picture of a campaign donor, Greg Lindberg, asking for a clear quid pro quo—campaign cash in exchange for favorable treatment by the government.

This unfolding case reminds us that North Carolina needs to revive laws that were designed to combat the influence of wealthy special interests by supporting small-donors with public financing. North Carolina had a system of public financing for statewide judicial races and elections for insurance commissioner, state auditor, and state superintendent. This program allowed judges and regulators to avoid relying on large contributions from wealthy donors like Lindberg.

Public servants like Causey shouldn’t have to balance the desires of the public with the pressure to please big-money interests. When quid pro quo deals are allowed to take place in our democracy, they subvert the voices of the people, who elected public officials to serve their interests, not wealthy special interests.

Sadly, this recent development only reinforces what many North Carolinians have been feeling for some time now: that their voices are not heard, and that their government fails to represent their concerns or meet their needs.

Voters want to believe in their democracy again. For that to happen, we need to enact common-sense reforms to cure our broken political system. North Carolina’s successful experiment in small donor public financing met its demise in 2013, even though it was a model program for how states can keep public officials from feeling beholden to moneyed interests.

It’s time to return to small donor public financing to ensure that everyone’s voice matters, counts, and is heard. Not only must we reinstate public financing for state insurance commissioner elections, we should go a step further and expand it to all Council of State offices as well as statewide judicial elections. Our state’s motto is “Esse quam videri” — Latin for “to be rather than to seem.”

If the motto is going to retain any real meaning, it’s essential that we demand a democracy that is truly—rather than just seemingly—of, by, and for the people.

Melissa Price Kromm is the Director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections

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Why Corporate Personhood is Bad for Business

By: Dr. Sally Goerner, Director
The Integral Science Institute

As we celebrate the second anniversary of the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision giving corporations the right to buy our elections, it is important to remember that this ruling is just as disastrous for business and the economy as it was for democracy. Understanding how money in politics harms business can help bridge some of our left-right divide and create a truly All-American, purple-state movement.

The root problem is not profit or corporations per se, its size and influence. In America, big money buys big favors ? and, big favors tilt the economic playing-field toward the already large and wealthy. If you’re not big and rich enough to buy special favors, you lose. Read more

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First term GOP Senators attempt to curtail NC citizens’ rights to engage in democracy

After being elected to office in an historic post Citizens United election, first term Republicans Senators Jim Davis, Ralph Hise, and Warren Daniel put forth Senate Bill 657.

This bill aims to ban Sunday or “Souls to the Polls” voting in North Carolina, eliminate early voter registration for 16-17 year olds, limit the early voting period to 8-9 days, limit the available day time hours of early voting locations and completely eliminate election-day voter registration in North Carolina.

Jim Morrill has a great piece on Senate bill 657 in the Charlotte Observer.

Heading into a presidential election in which North Carolina could be pivotal, a new Republican-backed bill would curtail early voting in the state and bar new voters from registering at the polls.

The Senate bill introduced last week would shrink the early-voting period by at least a week, end it on Sundays and stop so-called “same-day registration.”

Read more here.
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Reserved Seats Go to Other Special Interests, Big Donors of Bill Sponsors

Democracy NC Home

The state’s independent elections experts, Bob Hall of Democracy NC, released this report connecting the top recipients of Blue Cross contributions to Insurance Exchange bill sponsors:

The House Insurance Committee will take up a controversial bill (H-115) today that gives insurance companies a large role in overseeing how consumers can buy affordable insurance coverage through a state-level “health benefits exchange” created under the new national health reform law. Read more

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No justice for sale in North Carolina

Special interest TV spending in state judicial races has surged nationally, to the tune of $3.3 million for the week of October 21-27, 2010, according to the Justice at Stake Campaign.  This puts the state judicial TV spending spree at $13 million for the 2009-2010 election cycle.

Frightening, considering scandals like the 2004 West Virginia election, when the CEO of Massey Coal spent $3 million to help elect Brent Benjamin to the state’s highest court. This is even more alarming considering how the recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United has opened the floodgates for special interest spending, putting the 2010 election on track to be the most expensive election in history.

Spending is already up 40% from 2008 presidential election according to the Campaign Finance Institute, and is expected to grow as spending peaks prior to Election Day.

Fortunately, North Carolina has a system to stop judicial elections from being overtaken by special interest spending. After the state enacted the nation’s first judicial public financing program in 2002, the percent of money from attorneys and litigation-interested PACs went from 73% to the total before the program and 14% after. Voter-Owned Elections or public financing gets to the core problem — the dependency of politicians on private campaign money that all too often come with strings attached.