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There hasn’t been much to cheer about in the General Assembly this session, but some of the good folks working to reform our broken and plutocrat-owned election system are finding some inklings of hope. Word on Jones Street is that there may be a chance that lawmakers will insert a provision into this year’s omnibus elections law legislation that will close a giant loophole that’s currently shielding a lot of big money from public view.

As Alex Kotch of the Institute for Southern Studies reported recently:

hidden-money-pieA measure that may come before the North Carolina legislature this session could bring to light millions of dollars in political spending that is now often disclosed days or weeks after TV or radio ads air or political mailers are sent out — and in some cases, even after the elections they seek to influence have taken place.

Due to a loophole in North Carolina law, some outside political groups — those that are not affiliated with a candidate and spend independently to influence elections — are not required to disclose their spending until after an election. According to current disclosure rules, these “registered” political committees, whose primary purpose is to support or oppose candidates for office, only need to report expenditures on a quarterly schedule during election years. Consequently, information about who paid for many television and radio ads aired and mailers distributed before last November’s state-level elections and how much they paid was not disclosed until January of this year.

In 2013 a bill that would have tightened disclosure requirements for outside groups, H918, passed the state House with wide, bipartisan support in a vote of 97 to 16 but then stalled. Had it passed, a Facing South/Institute for Southern Studies analysis finds, more than $7.1 million in outside election spending in 2014 would have been disclosed earlier, 71 percent of the nearly $10.1 million in total outside spending in the state.

Of that amount, $1.6 million would have been disclosed before the 2014 elections if the loophole had been closed. Instead, spending information was kept hidden until after voting had ended, making it difficult for the public to know what special interests were seeking to influence North Carolina elections.

Let’s hope this measure develops some real traction in the waning says of the 2015 session. Click here to read the rest of Kotch’s report and here for more information on the necessary legislation in a fact sheet from the folks at NC Voters for Clean Elections.

Commentary
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, Read More

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It kind of feels like dispensing praise for not robbing a bank, but hey, in today’s North Carolina political world , we’ll take what we can get.

Accordingly, the House of Representatives deserves a sincere ‘attaboy and ‘attagirl for passing legislation this week to require electronic records filing by most local and state candidates and political committees. The provision was watered down somewhat and doesn’t go into effect for three years, but it’s better than nothing. As the good people at the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform noted with justifiable pride:

“The North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is commends the NC House for passing a bill today to require electronic filing of campaign reports.  All political campaigns and committees raising and/or spending more than $5,000 will be required to submit electronic reports to the NC Board of Elections beginning January 1, 2017.

The Coalition has been working for over five years to get electronic filing which will make it easier for citizens to see how much money candidates raise and from whom.  It will save the state money because state employees will no longer have to key in data from handwritten or typed reports.
Read More

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As we sift through the aftermath of this week’s primary elections, folks should check out two new “must reads” from the state’s editorial pages about the bottom-of-the-barrel, big-money attack ads that infected the race for a state Supreme Court seat.

In this essay published in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, Melissa Price Kromm of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and Bert Brandenburg of the group Justice at Stake in Washington, D.C had this to say:

“After years of avoiding the explosion in judicial election spending nationwide, North Carolina is quickly earning an unwelcome reputation. In the 2011-2012 judicial election cycle, more than $3.5 million was spent for just one state Supreme Court seat; more than $2.8 million of that came from outside groups.

The soaring independent spending in North Carolina is in keeping with national trends since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that unleashed unlimited independent spending on elections

These trends pose a disturbing threat to our courts – that justice might be for sale. Read More

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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