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Given that this is Election Day in many places around the state and nation,  it’s fitting that Raleigh’s News & Observer editorializes this morning against one of the great threats to fair elections in our country — namely, the vast sums of “dark money” being dumped into buying elections at all levels by fat cat special interests like the infamous Koch Brothers.

Athough the latest news stems from developments in California, this is not just a far-off problem for North Carolinians. As the editorial notes:

“The Kochs’ reach extends to North Carolina, where Americans for Prosperity, a group they started, has been orchestrating ads against Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who’s up for re-election in 2014. The campaign is gratuitous and hooked to an obscure issue, the carbon emissions tax, something few people are familiar with. It presents, however, an opportunity to attack a Democrat. Read More

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice released an important new report today entitled “The New Politics of Judicial Elections,” highlighting North Carolina as one of the big spenders nationwide — and first in spending by outside interest groups — during the 2011-2012 Supreme Court election cycle.

In North Carolina, a 4-3 conservative majority was on the line in 2012 when incumbent Justice Paul Newby faced off against Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV. Estimated spending surpassed $4.4 million, shattering state records for judicial elections.

According to the report, North Carolina ranked fourth in overall spending for 2011-12 Supreme Court races nationwide, but first for independent expenditures by interest groups, at $3,841,998.

Independent spending by interest groups (as compared to political parties) was particularly significant in 2011–12.

This trend is part of the long shadow cast by Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited corporate and union independent expenditures in federal elections and in the 24 states that restricted such spending at the time of the ruling.

In North Carolina, for example, the Super PAC North Carolina Judicial Coalition, backed by conservative and business interests, spent nearly $2.9 million in its efforts to reelect incumbent Justice Paul Newby, making it the biggest spender in the state. (The report ranks the Judicial Coalition as fourth in the country in television advertisement spending).

North Carolina’s Supreme Court race was also targeted by the conservative Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit social welfare group linked to the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which spent $250,000 in support of Justice Newby—AFP’s largest judicial advocacy effort ever.

What makes this super-PAC spending worse is the difficulty the public has in identifying just who donors to the PAC, and ultimately to the candidate the PAC supports, are:

Many of the top-spending special interest groups in 2011–12 shrouded their agendas and donor lists in secrecy. Names like the . . . “North Carolina Judicial Coalition” leave ordinary citizens hard-pressed to identify spenders’ ideological or political agendas.

Top donors to the North Carolina Judicial Coalition, which was a major spender for television advertising in support of Justice Paul Newby, included Justice for All NC, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the North Carolina Republican Party, General Parts International, Inc., the Next Century Fund, and a variety of individuals. The Center for Public Integrity reports that one of these groups, Justice for All NC, received most of its money from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which in turn counted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform as its single biggest donor in 2012.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which played a key role in the state’s 2010 redistricting process, is now front and center in the redistricting case pending before Justice Newby and his colleagues on the Supreme Court. Challengers to the plan have asked Newby to recuse himself from the case.

Read the full report here.

Dallas Woodhouse2You may have trouble enduring all 50 minutes and 40 seconds, but today’s weird valedictory farewell by departing Americans for Prosperity director Dallas Woodhouse at the Locke Foundation’s “Shaftsbury Society” luncheon provides an interesting and, at times, surprisingly unfiltered window into just how closely coordinated the right-wing world of charitable 501 (c)(3)’s, (c)(4)’s and various explicitly partisan political and candidate-specific organizations really is. (Woodhouse is leaving AFP to become a campaign/political consultant).

Woodhouse addresses the matter (explicitly and implicitly) several times during the talk — most notably about a quarter of the way in when he explains that  conservative “accomplishments” of late in North Carolina are the result of ”the efforts of our candidates, with the effort of our network here through the Locke Foundation, Civitas, the Pope Center for Higher Education, the Center for Constitutional Law, and Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Prosperity Foundation…” and then goes on to thank Art Pope for making it all possible.

To help complete the big, warm and fuzzy picture, the first question at the conclusion of the talk is posed by Woodhouse’s former colleague Jeff Mixon, now of the Governor’s office.

In short, those who watch this video will get a quick, powerful and sobering lesson about who it is that’s driving the policy and political agendas in North Carolina right now (and how, in their troubled worldview, they’re just getting started).

In case you missed it, this afternoon’s “Thankful Tuesday” event (at which supporters of the current state leadership will register their support for the impending regressive tax shift) will, according to the folks at Americans for Prosperity,  be co-sponsored by a group that calls itself the Moccasin Creek Minutemen.

As my colleague Chris Fitzsimon reported earlier this year, these are the same fun folks who, George Wallace-like, championed “nullification” of federal law at an event outside the General Assembly in January.  

The group’s website also serves as handy portal into the loony tunes underbelly of the modern far right, with easy-to-follow links leading visitors to the websites like The Blaze and NC Freedom – a site that, in turn, promotes a group that calls itself the North Carolina American RepublicThis group rejects the legitimacy of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and, indeed, the very legality of our state government.

Yikes! Should be a fun afternoon.  

 

Grover NorquistHow low have things sunk in the Raleigh policy debate? This low: A front group for corporations and greedy billionaires is bringing a has-been Washington lobbyist to town to promote higher taxes on poor and middle class North Carolinians and some are calling it a “tax reform” event.

Grover Norquist is about ”reforming” tax policy in the same way that Rush Limbaugh is  about ”reforming” American political discourse. Norquist is a well-funded bully who has done much to ruin the well-being of the Republic. His most infamous quote — that he wants to shrink government down to the size at which it can be “drowned in the bathtub” bespeaks the hatred and violent underpinnings of his noxious, greed-is-good “philosophy.”  

Norquist will confirm the dishonesty and hypocrisy that lies at the heart of his work today when Read More