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Veteran state capital journalist Scott Mooneyham frequently has some of the best takes on the developments in Raleigh and the column cross-posted below (which was distributed yesterday by the NC Insider) is another example:

Your Winnings, Sir
By Scott Mooneyham
March 18, 2013

RALEIGH — One of the most fascinating news conferences that I ever attended came during the tenure of former Democratic state House Speaker Jim Black.

Black was defending legislation to legalize video poker, trying to make the point that the industry created jobs. My predecessor in this columnist gig, Paul O’Connor, had a simple question for the House speaker: How about prostitution?

“It’s jobs too,” O’Connor said.

He wasn’t serious about legalizing prostitution. O’Connor was trying to make the point that plenty of other morally questionable and currently illegal behavior could generate jobs too, if that were the only criteria that lawmakers need consider. Read More

As the good people at Democracy NC point out in the lengthy statement below, the new controversey over an alleged racketeer with big campaign finance connections to North Carolina’s political power structure raises some important and disturbing questions:

Sweepstakes Gambling Operator is Top Donor to NC Legislators; Donations with Ties to McCrory’s Law Firm Raise Questions

The man at the center of a national gambling scandal that caused Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll of Florida to resign last week played a surprisingly large – and mysterious – role in financing North Carolina politicians in 2012, according to new research by the election reform group Democracy North Carolina: Read More

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One of the main reasons that progressives have always felt a little leery of Beverly Perdue is their concern that she represents the politics of the past — the conservative, good ol’ boy wing of the Democratic Party that was/is more concerned about winning elections and holding onto power than advancing the causes of social, economic and political justice.

While she has done many good things as Governor, those fears have already been confirmed on more than one occasion during Perdue’s first 34 months in office. And they got another unwelcome boost today with the indictment of three people associated with her 2008 campaign. Read More

Last night, the Greenville City Council voted to ask the North Carolina General Assembly for the right to explore voter-owned elections at the local level. The city joins Wilmington (February) and Raleigh (January) in adopting such a measure.

Voter-owned elections are a proven method of dislodging special interest money from the political process, and empowering citizen participation in democracy. The idea is that candidates should get their campaign money from small donors in their constituency, as well as a public fund, rather than soliciting big money contributions that often come with strings attached.

In 2009, the Town of Chapel Hill became the first community east of the Mississippi to conduct a voter-owned election; the top 2 vote-getters were both voter-owned.

Currently, cities must ask the state for special permission even to consider campaign reform. But with more and more communities joining the chorus for change, the legislature has every reason to grant them reform authority in the upcoming short session.

Matt Clark

Keeping you Updated:

One of the projects that we’ve been working on this year is a survey to all candidates in the upcoming state elections. We hope it will serve as a barometer to gauge the candidates’ stance on ethics related issues.  The survey is open ended, and focuses on the often problematic relationship between lobbyists and legislators.  An open ended survey allows candidates to respond more precisely to the question posed, thus providing you and us a more complete picture of a candidate’s stance on issues.  Of the 370 surveys sent out, more than half have been returned, and we are continuing to receive responses.  We have gone to great lengths to ensure as many candidates as possible will respond, in an effort to provide the most comprehensive picture of state ethics support possible.  To date, each non-respondent has been contacted via telephone to check the status of our survey, once again, in hopes of coming as close to a full response rate as possible.

Some of the specifics the survey addresses include the legitimacy of lobbyists conducting fund raising ventures for candidates, support for “sunshine” legislation that would require disclosure of the name and occupation of anyone contributing more than $10,000 to a campaign, and restrictions on political parties for donating to candidates.  The survey also questions lobbyists’ involvement with PACs and asks if members of the Council of State should be allowed to solicit money for charities.  These issue areas allow us to discern how a candidate feels towards ethics issues, and will provide a reference point for drafting legislation or soliciting support for ethics issues in the future. 

Of particular interest to us are the gubernatorial candidates, and thus far we have received responses from the entire field.  Sunshine legislation and a strict adherence to ethics laws are important for any elected official, and in the case of the chief executive, this importance is magnified greatly.  Additionally, an executive who strongly favors campaign finance reform and greater transparency in the relationships between lobbyists and legislators will be a valuable ally in advancing an ethics related agenda in the future. 

The Raleigh News & Observer recently featured an article about our survey and the gubernatorial candidates’ responses.  This article and other information about the survey can be found at our website www.nclobbyreform.org.  Additionally, you can see what your elected representative said to our survey, and help in the process to keep them accountable on ethics related issues. 

Limiting the role of special interest money in politics is imperative to ensure citizens and constituencies are represented in a manner that is congruent with the spirit and letter of the laws of a democratic political system.  When external forces govern an elected official’s agenda, the representative system ceases to be an instrument of the people, and instead becomes a vehicle through which to advance personal interests of a select group.  The aim of sunshine legislation and ethics reform is to reduce the opportunity for these groups to circumvent the political process; thereby ensuring voters will remain the central focus in state politics.