I knew that someone would work hard to find a loophole around our new ethics laws here in NC. I didn't think it would happen this quickly and would be this blatant.
David Ingram is reporting in The Charlotte Observer that a group of Republican women has lost no time in leaping through a loophole in the new law that allows lobbyists to continue giving to political groups or PACs.
From the Observer:
.....And that exception has not been lost on the leaders of the Committee to Elect Republican Women, a group of 14 female state officials.
The group sent a letter this week to lobbyists, inviting them to attend a breakfast Jan. 24 before the new session of the General Assembly and to contribute as much as $4,000. The invitation even mentions the new law and argues that the group is exempt.
Cherie Berry, founder of the Committee to Elect Republican Women, said it's doing only what it has done since its launch in 1999.
Please follow below the fold....
What's that, Cherie? Worming your way around the law?
According to the Observer article, the actions of this group have those who supported the new ethics law upset.
Groups that argued for the new law say the Committee to Elect Republican Women is taking advantage of a loophole -- one of the first loopholes in the state's new, more comprehensive ethics laws.
"They're trying to thread the needle," said Bob Hall, research director of the Carrboro-based watchdog group Democracy North Carolina. "They're undercutting the spirit of what the new law says."
They should be upset. There is nothing that prevents a group of lawmakers from forming a PAC for the sole purpose of soliciting funds from lobbyists. Quite frankly, setting up a PAC isn't that difficult. According to G.S. 163-278.6 (14)(PDF):
The term "political committee" means a combination of two or more individuals, such as any person, committee, association, organization or other entity that makes, or accepts anything of value to make, contributions or expenditures and has one or more of the following characteristics:
a. Is controlled by a candidate;
b. Is a political party or executive committee of a political party or is controlled by a politcal party or executive committee of a political party;
c. Is created by a corporation, business entity, insurance company, labor union, or professional association pursuant to G.S. 163-278.19(b); or
d. Has as a major purpose to support or oppose the nomination or election of one or more clearly identified candidates.
As you can see, there is nothing to prevent two like-minded (or opposite-minded) legislators from joining together to rake in the big bucks from lobbyists. There may be limits as to how much each can use to fund their campaigns personally, but imagine the power that could be garnered as they spread the wealth among their cronies. This could easily happen on both sides of the aisle.
Once again, according to the Observer:
According to the invitation, the group has received written opinions from a staff lawyer at the General Assembly and from the State Board of Elections indicating it was complying with the law. Berry said those opinions are good enough for her.
The lawyer, Walker Reagan, told the Observer his opinion is not binding. Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said he is unaware of any written opinion from his office. Bartlett said he isn't sure his office has authority over the issue.
I see a couple of folks pulling out their ten foot poles. Not gonna touch this one, huh boys?
David Ingram did an excellent job pulling this article together. Please visit the Observer at the link above and if you like the coverage email dingram@CharlotteObserver.com and let him know. He might not share my opinions about the facts he presented, but I think he did a thorough job presenting the facts.
Note: While I wasn't able to find a complete list of the 14 Republican women playing fast and loose with our new ethics laws, I did find their listing at the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Here is their third quarter report from 2006. (PDF)