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Just in from the watchdogs at Democracy NC (click here to read the entire report):

State Legislators Pile Up $8 Million for Campaigns;
Incumbent Advantage Will Grow with PACs’ “Gratitude Money”

A review of financial reports by the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina shows that state legislators running for reelection have stockpiled more than $8 million in cash for the final months of the 2014 campaign.

Legislators of both parties can also expect a windfall in special-interest donations when the General Assembly adjourns, likely this week, said Bob Hall, director of the nonpartisan group.

The 101 Republican legislators seeking election to the NC House or Senate hold $6.8 million in cash, more than four times as much as the $1.5 million held by the 52 Democrats. (The other 17 legislators are retiring or running for another office, or they were defeated in the primary.)

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) led all lawmakers with $1,015,460 in cash as of June 30, the deadline for the most recent financial report. The next report is not due until late October. Senate Republican Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) is next with $444,267, followed by Democratic Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake) with $347,413.

Because Speaker Thom Tillis is running for the U.S. Senate, the Republicans in the House who have the most cash are Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) with $251,573 and Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) with $246,216. Both men have Democratic opponents in the general election, but neither challenger had more $9,000 as of June 30.

“The combination of big-money fundraising and highly partisan redistricting means we’re seeing less competition in general elections,” said Hall “It’s hard to hold legislators accountable when they don’t have competition.”

Of the 153 legislators seeking reelection, 74 – or nearly half of them – face no opposition from the other major party. 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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Holding true to their inclinations revealed at oral argument and splitting along party lines in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that 2-year aggregate limits on campaign contributions are invalid under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia,Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in the result, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

At issue in McCutcheon was the federal law that caps the total amount of campaign contributions an individual can give to all federal candidates over a two-year period at $48,600. It also limits the total amount an individual can give to political committees that make contributions to candidates to $74,600 and caps the total amount for contributions in the two-year cycle at to $74,600.

Read the full opinion here.

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Elena Kagan, the youngest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, wasted no time yesterday jumping into the fray during argument in the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, according to this Reuters report.

At issue in McCutcheon is the viability of FEC aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and political committees.

Just minutes after the argument began, Kagan fired off a number of worst-case scenarios that might result if the court threw out those limits:

Kagan raised the specter of an individual donor who stays within the base $5,000 limit for a Political Action Committee (PAC) but then – presuming the aggregate limits are lifted – contributes to 100 PACs. She theorized that money could be transferred to U.S. Senate candidates who would know of the original contributions and feel beholden to the contributors.

Under another scenario, she said, an individual could stay within base limits on contributions to candidates, parties and committees but – if facing no overall cap – give a total $3.5 million. “Having written a check for 3.5-or-so million dollars … are you suggesting that that party and the members of that party are not going to owe me anything, that I won’t get any special treatment?”

Those scenarios, mocked by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, caught the attention of others, though — including Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts — prompting some to speculate that a decision along party lines might not be forthcoming.

At another point, Kagan took a shot at her conservative colleagues’ decision in Citizens United:

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the Citizens United decision, challenged Verrilli about the underpinning of the court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling that gave government more leeway to put limits on contributions compared to expenditures.

Verrilli said Congress could always write a new law, if it chose, changing the contribution limits.

That prompted Kagan to interject, “And General, I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.” That would mean reversing Citizens United. Said Verrilli, “Far be it from me to suggest that you don’t, your honor.”