Some stories, like the decline and fall of Jim Black, refuse to die. Which is exactly the case in the blood feud between Art Pope and Richard Morgan, two luminaries in the North Carolina Party of Greed.
As you may remember, Art Pope (fondly known around these parts as the Puppetmaster) dumped half a million dollars of his family's corporate money into the 2006 Republican primaries. He focused particularly on stomping out Richard Morgan, who had the audacity to work with Democrats over the years in the General Assembly. In hopes of purifying the party and remaking it in his own arrogant image, the Puppetmaster bankrolled a campaign to support Joe "the Hairdresser" Boylan against Morgan in Moore County. Morgan challenged his spending as electioneering, but was rebuffed by the idiots at the State Board of Elections.
Democracy took a sucker punch this week when the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted to allow the sale of legislative seats to fat-cat corporations. In an embarrassing display of incompetence, board chairman Larry Leake and his hapless colleagues went through the motions of hearing Richard Morgan's complaint with barely a nod in the direction of decorum or seriousness. Loony Larry even had this to say to a reporter from the Southern Pines Pilot:
Asked if the board could not really have ruled just the same way in about 20 minutes - without all the testimony and argument - Leake just smiled.
"Maybe five," he said. "But people have a right to a hearing."
Morgan has been raising money to appeal the SBOE decision, but this week announced he was dropping the appeal because the broader issue of corporate money in electioneering is being taken up by the US Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, the Morgan camp sees the case in a different light than PopeCo does. Here's the story from the Fayetteville Observer.
RALEIGH — Former state Rep. Richard Morgan has closed a legal defense fund and dropped his challenge of a political ad campaign that mentioned his name because the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a similar case later this year, his lawyer said Tuesday. The lawyer, Michael Weisel of Raleigh, said the nation’s high court will consider a Wisconsin case about the use of corporate financing for advertising before an election.
Corporate contributions to political candidates are illegal. Corporations may contribute to certain tax-exempt organizations as long as advertising by those groups expresses opinions on issues and does not advocate the victory or defeat of candidates.
Morgan, a Moore County Republican, filed a complaint last year with the N.C. State Board of Elections accusing Raleigh businessman and Republican activist Art Pope of spending more than $500,000 from his retail corporations to defeat Morgan in last year’s primary election.
The elections board ruled last August that the ads were legal, and Morgan opened a defense fund to appeal the ruling in state court. But Weisel said there was no need to spend the money and pursue the battle because a Wisconsin Right to Life group is fighting the very same battle. “It’s the exact same issue, right on point,” Weisel said. “The question is, ‘What were you really trying to do with those ads?’ Clearly, the intent was to put negative issues out there and try to influence the election.”
Pope, of course, says he bankrolled a legal tax-exempt group to call attention to issues and that the Supreme Court case is just a dodge for Morgan to walk away from a losing proposition.
Pope said this week that Morgan was using the Wisconsin case as an excuse to withdraw his appeal, saying it wouldn't have much bearing on the state board ruling. But Weisel said the Supreme Court's decision would resolve questions in the North Carolina law cited in Morgan's complaint.
As usual, the Puppetmaster is full of wishful thinking on this. He's hoping the Supremes restrict their judgment to the question of broadcast advertising, which seems highly unlikely given the far-ranging impacts of electioneering regulations.
The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to revisit the landmark 2002 legislation overhauling the nation's campaign finance laws, role of campaign spending by corporations, unions and special interest groups in time for the 2008 presidential primaries. (emphasis added)
The only side I'm taking in this battle is the side of We the People. Art Pope clearly believes that rich white guys should be able to do whatever the hell they want, which apparently extends to electioneering communications. He's skated around both the letter and the spirit of laws to get his way - and appears to have no shame at saying "screw you" to the citizens of North Carolina.
Given that the Child King has stacked the Supreme Court to favor rich white guys like Pope, I have no way of predicting how this will all shake out. But no matter what happens, the Puppetmaster's stench of corruption and arrogance is a blight on the integrity of North Carolina elections.
PS After much soul-searching, I hereby declare my support for Bob Orr in the NCGOP gubernatorial primary. As the Puppetmaster's waterboy, Orr will carry the Taint of Pope with him throughout the governor's race, making him a pariah among the few moderates in the Party of Greed. Meanwhile, Pope will flush a boatload of money on a losing candidate, some of which might have otherwise gone to propping up the increasingly irrelevant JLF Puppetshow. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?