Commentary

Rep. Pricey Harrison: Coal ash is poisoning our democracy as well as our people

Pricey HarrisonIn case you missed it, North Carolina State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County has a great new essay up on the Huffington Post about the connections between North Carolina’s frightening coal ash mess and the state’s polluted, pay-to-play political culture.

This from “The Coal Ash Money Train — North Carolina’s Poisoned Democracy”:

“Normally, citizens could seek a remedy in the courts when state governments do not adequately regulate coal ash. Yet in North Carolina, that’s become increasingly difficult given the pay-to-play system that has replaced the innovative public financing program for judicial candidates – a program that Governor Pat McCrory eliminated in his first few months in office. Without public financing, judicial candidates must turn to deep-pocketed donors for the money needed to mount a successful campaign. Those private donors in turn may see favorable decisions in court.

We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Governor McCrory–a Duke executive for 28 years–has conveniently failed to enforce environmental regulations and is under federal investigation for doing so. Corporate polluters have spent big to elect legislators in North Carolina. We can expect that, when it comes to coal ash, Gov. McCrory will yield to his corporate ties and neglect to defend the health of North Carolinians, especially the poorest among us.

The Charlotte Observer recently editorialized on the state’s distorted regulatory focus, writing that the disaster in Flint is “a cautionary tale for public officials and the citizens they serve” and that it should “resonate in states like North Carolina, where the regulatory focus has too often shifted away from protecting residents to accommodating business and industry.” The state agencies that are supposed to protect our water have too often focused on satisfying industry.

It’s clear that when corporate dollars pervade the government systems built to protect the public, we can no longer count on government to do its job and look after its most vulnerable communities.”

Click here to read the entire post.

Commentary

Editorial: McCrory must clarify changing story re: “pay-to-play” meeting with prison contractor

This morning’s “must read” is the lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer. It concerns the nagging “Keith gate” story surrounding Gov. Pat McCrory, his Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry and the allegations regarding the demands of one of his big campaign contributors. Here’s the N&O:

“Frank Perry, the former senior FBI agent who now heads the state Department of Public Safety, prides himself on his reputation as a stand-up guy. Indeed, he has been a straight talker from his days in law enforcement and has been respected by elected officials Republican and Democratic.

But Perry seems to be digging himself into a controversy over an October 2014 meeting among Gov. Pat McCrory and senior officials and Graeme Keith Sr. and Graeme Keith Jr., who held through their companies lucrative contracts to do prison maintenance. McCrory, a friend of the Keiths, arranged the meeting.”

As the editorial goes on to explain, Perry’s story has changed. First Perry said he didn’t recall the Guv being in a “side conversation” (as McCrory has claimed) when Keith said he needed to get something in return for his generous campaign contributions and then, later, he claimed his “recollection is exactly the same as the governor’s.” Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

After the October 2014 meeting, the governor asked Lee Roberts, his budget director, to determine whether Keith’s contracts, not endorsed by other state officials who were not as enthusiastic about “privatization” of services, should be extended. Roberts recommended they be extended for one year. They now have expired. Roberts, after a relatively short tenure, has resigned as budget director.

McCrory has a responsibility to clarify this, and yet he has declined to comment of late. That’s not helping his own credibility, and Perry’s apparently conflicting statements aren’t helping him. The public deserves more.”

Amen.

Commentary

Bring back the McCrory of 2008!

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

Elections watchdog slams political “slush fund” legislation; calls for McCrory veto

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:
http://www.democracy-nc.org/downloads/H373-2015.pdf
http://www.democracy-nc.org/downloads/H373-2015-Summary.pdf

Here are two news stories about the changes:
http://abc11.com/politics/legislators-vote-for-all-nc-primaries-in-march/999421/
http://www.wral.com/bill-creating-new-political-party-organs-stirs-conflict-among-nc-republicans/14923774/#6tgCeZDOgXvQxlci.99

Commentary

Say what? Pope-Civitas chair inadvertently makes case for end to “pay to play” politics

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.