David Lewis

Rep. David Lewis

Not that we needed one, but this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer offers yet another reminder of how state budgets are put together in Raleigh these days. As the story written by Patrick Gannon of The Insider details, Rep. David Lewis, the powerful chair of the House Rules Committee “took significant steps in this year’s legislative session to protect the state contract of a friend and campaign donor” by “tucking language into a technical corrections bill that became law in the final minutes of the session – ensured that contracts for those services would continue to be bid out to the private sector when they expire next year.”

In other words, a law was written secretly in the dead of the night to protect a campaign donor with no public sunlight or input.

Now, consider this fact in the light of yesterday’s edition of the Fitzsimon File, in which Chris reviews thePat McCrory press event expressed position of Gov. McCrory on such shenanigans in 2008, during his first run for Governor. As Chris notes, McCrory promised “to veto any state budget that includes items added in private sessions and not included by the House or Senate during the regular budget process.”

Sadly, of course, as Chris also notes, “Virtually every budget McCrory has signed would qualify for a veto under that promise but he has signed every one of them.”

Obviously, as occurred with his infamous repudiations of his 2012 promise to approve no further restrictions on access to abortion services, something changed between the 2008 campaign and McCrory becoming Governor in 2013 and it wasn’t good.

It’s too bad. Some of those 2008 promises made a lot of sense.

Commentary, News

Good government and clean elections watchdog Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina issued a strong statement this morning condemning the bill passed by state lawmakers this week to move the state’s 2016 primary election to March. As Hall explains, the bill also contains “an unrelated terrible section that will greatly expand pay-to-play politics in North Carolina.” This is from the statement:

Section 3 of H-373 calls these slush funds “affiliated party committees,” but they are actually bank accounts completely controlled by one person – either the House Speaker, Senate President Pro Tem, or the House or Senate minority party leader. No money may be “expended except when authorized by the leader.”

Unlike a legislator’s campaign account, these new slush funds can accept limitless donations from lobbyists or corporations, even while the legislature is in session. Duke Energy, hog barons, gambling interests or a private contractor could pour money into a fund as a key bill is being debated. The money can be used to help elect or defeat candidates or for “daily operations” deemed relevant to the leader.

These changes take us backwards. They undercut the reforms adopted after the deal-making scandals involving House Speaker Jim Black a decade ago. They give wealthy special interests new ways to dominate NC politics. And they create new ways for legislative leaders to sell access, steer money into their pet causes, and exert control over other legislators.

Gov. Pat McCrory should veto this corrosive expansion of power for elites in the General Assembly. As a candidate, he pledged to fight pay-to-play politics and corruption. Now he has the opportunity to show leadership by vetoing this bill and calling for new legislation that only changes the primary election date.

Here are links to the bill and legislative staff’s summary:

Here are two news stories about the changes:


Bob Luddy 2You have to hand it to the massively oblivious Bob Luddy. One of the state’s leading hard right, fat cat political funders probably thought he was showing what a principled guy he is when he penned this letter promising Republican lawmakers a cutoff in campaign funds because he dislikes the House budget proposal.

What he did instead, of course, was to show how just how corrupt and out of control the state’s political system has gotten when a rich moneybags can, effectively,  publicly admit that he buys influence with his campaign money and then threaten to turn off the spigot because he doesn’t get his way. If ever there was a crystal clear demonstration of how the Citizens United decision and the recent toxic expansion in pay-to-pay politics that it has spawned needs to be reversed this was it.

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


mccroryThere’s a hard-hitting report out today from the Center for Public Integrity peeling back the layers behind the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group of primarily Republican governors pushing to allow off-shore drilling in Atlantic waters.

The coalition is chaired by Gov. Pat McCrory, and the Center for Public Integrity report (also published in Time magazine) details how a private firmed backed by oil and energy industry representatives are providing research and information to the group of governors. (Click here to read the entire article.)

From the report:

While the message from the governors that morning [a February meeting with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell] would have come as no surprise to Jewell, less clear, perhaps, was that the governors were drawing on the research and resources of an energy lobbying firm acting on behalf of an oil industry-funded advocacy group.

Indeed, the background materials handed to the governors for the meeting, right down to those specific “asks,” were provided by Natalie Joubert, vice president for policy at the Houston- and Washington D.C.-based HBW Resources. Joubert helps manage the Consumer Energy Alliance, or CEA, a broad-based industry coalition that HBW Resources has been hired to run. The appeal for regulatory certainty, for example, came with a note to the governors that Shell, a CEA member, “felt some of the rules of exploration changed” after it began drilling operations in the Arctic.

McCrory, a former Duke Energy executive, does not come off looking very good, with a mention of his spokesman contacting the private industry-backed firm to ask how to answer a reporter’s questions about the group led by McCrory.

Read More