Former NC candidate for Treasurer lays out “five myths about campaign finance”

Image: Matthew Leatherman for NC Treasurer Twitter account

In case you missed it and can get to it, check out an essay penned by Matthew Leatherman that ran recently in the Washington Post. Leatherman, as you may recall, is a former employee of the state Treasurer’s office who ran in the Democratic primary for that office last year.

In “Five myths about campaign finance,” Leatherman shares some important insights that he gained during his campaign and in recent weeks in the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection — some of which may surprise you.

Number One, for instance, is his take on the old aphorism that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” This, sadly, he says, is not always the case:

In a letter this month calling for greater campaign finance disclosure requirements, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) quoted Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous phrase, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” A 2017 article in the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems titled “Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant: Public Disclosure of Electoral Advocacy in Union Member Communications” argued that disclosure requirements would allow “voters to understand more fully which moneyed interests are supporting candidates behind closed doors.”

But this works only if sunlight-exposed information comes to the attention of voters — and if they care. When I ran for office last year, I was heavily outraised by the candidate who went on to win our primary. Nearly half of his initial fundraising total was a loan he made to his campaign. But even though this information was freely available and just a few clicks away, the only person who seemed to know these facts was me.

When President Donald Trump’s false statements about payments to Stormy Daniels were exposed, it may have hurt his reputation, but it didn’t meaningfully diminish his electoral prospects or his standing with most Republican voters. It hasn’t led, so far, to any liability on his part for alleged violation of campaign laws.

The other four “myths” Leatherman busts are:

  • Small-dollar donors are the face of democracy.
  • Companies quit politics after the Jan. 6 riots.
  • Candidate can refuse certain types of donations.
  • Money is a form of speech.

In each of his takes on these propositions, Leatherman does a great job of raising some hard truths about modern American politics in this era in which super-rich plutocrats play such an outsized role. Readers would do well to follow him on Facebook and keep an eye peeled for future insightful commentaries.

Study: Medicaid expansion would provide relief to North Carolina hospitals strained by COVID-19

With overworked staff, limited inpatient beds and high demand, many hospitals in North Carolina and nationwide have been pushed to capacity as they struggle to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Despite the increased demand, however, many hospitals face unprecedented financial challenges because of the growing number of uninsured individuals .

A recent study published in Health Affairs examines how expanding Medicaid could affect the financial stability of a state’s hospitals during the pandemic. By comparing hospital finances before and after Medicaid expansion (FY 2011-2017), researchers analyzed the impacts of the Affordable Care Act on uncompensated care costs — these occur when a hospital provides care and does not receive any payment from the patient or insurer – as well as Medicaid reimbursements and operating margins.

The study found that hospitals in expansion states reported greater financial stability than hospitals in non-expansion states. Below are several highlights from the study:

  • Hospitals in expansion states saw a large decline in uncompensated care costs while hospitals in non-expansion states saw an increase in uncompensated costs during the study period.
  • Hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014 reported an average decline of $6.4 million  in uncompensated care costs during the study period, representing a 53% decline relative to FY 2011-2013.
  • Hospitals in expansion states had an increase in Medicaid reimbursements, while hospitals in non-expansion states saw their Medicaid reimbursements stagnate.
  • The early financial gains of hospitals in expansion states were sustained through 2017, suggesting that the fiscal benefits of Medicaid expansion are long-lasting.

While this study did not examine hospital finances during the pandemic, its findings suggests that hospitals in expansion states entered the COVID-19 crisis on stronger footing than hospitals in non-expansion states and are more resilient.

Medicaid expansion would extend relief to all hospitals in North Carolina, but particularly to hospitals in rural parts of the state. Since 2014, six rural hospitals have closed and many more remain vulnerable to closure because of financial challenges. This study supports prior research demonstrating the positive effects of Medicaid expansion on hospital finances and, by extension, rural communities who rely on hospitals for health care and jobs.

During the worst public health crisis in a century, over a million North Carolinians are uninsured. Medicaid expansion would provide coverage for more than 500,000 low-income North Carolinians. Prior to the pandemic, North Carolina had an uninsured rate of 11.3%, well above the national uninsured rate of 9.2%. Research shows that closing the coverage gap would help narrow racial and ethnic health disparities. This is especially important for low-income communities of color that disproportionately have occupations that put them at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure and have higher rates of chronic health conditions.

In addition, new analysis of a congressional proposal for COVID relief shows that North Carolina would stand to benefit from an increase of the existing federal share of Medicaid costs to the tune of $2.4 billion. This provision aims to address a concern often raised by opponents of Medicaid expansion despite findings showing state budget savings in addition to health insurance coverage gains.

The COVID-19 pandemic wears on while the choices of lawmakers to reject Medicaid expansion continues to harm North Carolinians, hospitals, and communities.

Keven White is an MSW intern at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC passes a grim anniversary for the state’s workers

Eight years ago this week, then Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that overhauled our state’s unemployment insurance system. And so began our state’s fall to the bottom of the national pack when it comes to helping jobless workers and protecting our economy from the spiraling effects that downturns can have on the well-being of families and, in turn, businesses and local economies.

Click here to read a letter from an array of advocates that McCrory ignored at the time.

Today in the face of the economic shock wrought by a global pandemic, North Carolina’s jobless claims remain elevated and people are losing state unemployment insurance benefits at alarming rates and only scraping by for the time being with the help of federal programs.

Tragically, our state system is woefully inadequate to handle the challenge of this moment.

North Carolina is:

  • 45th for the lowest duration in unemployment insurance benefits at 9.6 weeks
  • 47th for the lowest average weekly benefit amount at $215 per week, or less than 23 cents per $1 in prior wages earned
  • 2nd for the share of jobless workers exhausting unemployment insurance benefits

Despite, however, our incredibly stingy benefits, the state’s UI tax rate is the fourth lowest in the country. Employers in North Carolina pay only $143 on average in UI taxes per worker.

The result: North Carolina is falling behind in the work to secure the fastest and most equitable recovery. Make no mistake, these rankings and these policy choices aren’t putting us in a more competitive position or reducing our long-term costs or helping business.

The system put in place in 2013 was designed and continues to be one that does not provide the support that unemployed workers and communities across the state need.

Our legislative leaders can choose to act now to fix the deficiencies in this system that both threaten the health and well-being of us all and continue to delay a full and just recovery.

They can move immediately to raise the duration of time that unemployed workers may collect benefits in the state program to 26 weeks and make sure that both average and maximum weekly benefit amounts are connected to prior wages earned, not arbitrary figures or tied to formulas that no other state uses.

They can recognize that the changing nature of work requires a short-time compensation program and recognize that our system needs updating in order to address the needs of a workforce that is rapidly evolving and in which part-time work plays a bigger and bigger role.

What better time than an anniversary—even a traumatic one—to recommit to the values (like broadly shared economic opportunity and  prosperity and community well-being) that we all share?

With such a commitment we can construct just and lasting recovery. Without it, North Carolina will remain mired near the bottom of he pack.

Alexandra Sirota is the director of the NC Budget & Tax Center.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Trump’s crack(pot) legal team

I don’t want to say Trump’s impeachment defense lawyers weren’t very good, but I imagine even Marjorie Taylor Greene sighed and said: “Whoa. And I thought I was a dangerous, dimwitted windbag” after opening arguments last week.

Although the ex-president was acquitted, again, you have to admit his defense was wobbly at best. Trump appeared to hire and fire lawyers for his crack(pot) legal team almost casually. Far from wasting away in Mar-a-lago-ville, he watched events unfold on TV, bellowed for new talent and, by Saturday, nothing approaching justice prevailed.

Trump’s lawyers weren’t the best or brightest but you can’t really blame them. Hardly anybody likes being paid with live chickens anymore.

Since the ex-president famously doesn’t pay his attorneys, he has discovered it’s hard to find good representation. Which is how I felt for the past four years so I get the frustration. His initial feelers for finding the finest legal minds resulted in some version of “No” ranging from “I have to wash my hair that week” to “it’s not you; it’s us; we have ethics” to “Not even if you sent Liam Neeson to my house and he informed me he had a “very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

So, he ended up with attorneys who were less top-drawer and more Sterlite box with a warped lid. While nothing noxious oozed from their scalps, at least on Day 1, they did commit poetry—Longfellow at that, and with TEARS.

Trump, not exactly a patron of the arts, must have really hated his lawyer spouting poetry –poetry!– on billable hours’ time.

T: “Melania, what’s this guy saying?”

M: “Eeez poetry, Donald.

T: “Why?”

M: “No one knows, but we are supposed to like it.”

While he fumed and plotted to bring Matlock out of retirement, Trump was just being himself. That’s the devil we know.

It was the Republican members of the Senate who confounded me. Shown a 13-minute video of a mob of murderous morons beating Capitol cops with the business end of an American flagpole, their response could best be summed up as “Meh.”

The only possible explanation for their repugnant non-response to Jan. 6 is they wanted to stay in good with Trump’s base. Mustn’t risk offending the base or you could lose your Senate seat and fail to spend another six years of kissing Q butt, refusing to compromise for the greater good and fundraising.

When it was all over, the only surprise was Richard Burr, who is from my home state of North Carolina. Burr, a lame duck who no longer needs to suck up to the MAGA cult finally found his conscience, which had been laying idle and rusty as a busted air conditioner beside a Goodwill dumpster. Voting to convict showed us Burr recognized evil, but he didn’t speak up until he finally had nothing to lose. Not exactly heroic but better than nothing, I suppose.

Celia Rivenbark wonders when everybody started saying “Jag-u-are” instead of “Jag-wahr.”  

North Carolina’s HBCU students are leaders in building a democracy for all

RALEIGH – One of the crown jewels of North Carolina is our world-class system of higher education. Among these stellar institutions are our Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

We are one of the top states for HBCU enrollment, with 10 schools serving 40,000 students. These HBCUs are essential to the strength of North Carolina, producing outstanding engineers, attorneys, educators, artists, entrepreneurs and leaders who help shape the destiny of our country.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we recall the rich legacy of brave student activists, of past and present, at North Carolina’s HBCUs who have played a crucial part in the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements, championing equality and justice for all.

An early example came in February of 1960, when four freshmen at NC A&T State University sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro to defy segregation. Their courageous act sparked a student-led, nationwide sit-in movement that challenged the evils of white supremacy.

That same year, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was founded on the campus of another North Carolina HBCU, Shaw University in Raleigh. The organization would play a central role in engaging young people in the cause of civil rights.

In these and countless other examples, HBCU students have changed the course of history. The torch is now in the hands of today’s generation. We wish the battle against systemic racism and oppression were things of the past, but we know they are not. We’ve seen repeated attempts at voter suppression in recent years, and new threats loom.

In 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a core part of the Voting Rights Act, the Republican-controlled NC General Assembly rammed through a bill that rolled back voting access in our state. A federal judge later noted that the proposal targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Thanks to a broad coalition of grassroots advocacy groups, students and everyday people standing up and fighting back, that voter suppression scheme was overturned in court.

In 2016, the GOP-led legislature once again gerrymandered our state’s voting maps. In doing so, lawmakers split the campus of NC A&T State University – the nation’s largest HBCU – into two different congressional districts, fracturing the voting power of that predominantly Black community. Students at NC A&T spoke out, organized and joined the effort to strike down the discriminatory district lines. In 2019, a state court case resulted in the maps being redrawn, and the NC A&T campus was reunited into a single congressional district.

Time and again, HBCU students have been at the forefront of defending democracy, but the work is not done. The former president and his most radical supporters continue to spread destructive lies about the 2020 election as a pretense to undercut ballot access for Black and brown Americans.

Michael Spencer

We must act now to protect voting rights and our Constitution. In North Carolina, we must demand that legislators reject efforts to enact barriers to the ballot box.

At the federal level, Congress should immediately pass the For the People Act. This is a transformative and comprehensive bill that addresses voting rights and election administration, money in politics, government transparency and ethics. The For the People Act includes provisions for automatic voter registration, strengthening ballot access and establishing independent redistricting commissions to end racial and partisan gerrymandering.

The eyes of history are upon us. We must carry on the legacy of standing against suppression and pursuing justice. Together, we can build a democracy that so many dreamed of and worked for – a democracy for us all.

Michael Spencer is the College Outreach Program Manager with Common Cause NC, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.