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:
A 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.