Taking the 527 Home


 
The picture you see is of yard signs in a garden on my street. The garden is that of neighbor Scott Falmlen, former executive director of the state Democratic Party and one of the organizers of "FairJudges.net" the 527 committee which received and spent over $200,000 in "non-partisan" judicial races on behalf of the three Democratic judges shown and one Republican incumbent (running against late convert Democrat "persona non grata" Rachel Hunter). Scott is a nice guy who always waves when I pass him in the street.

Another 527 committee, the "NC Homeowners Alliance" spent over $70,000 mostly in opposition to State Representative Bonner Stiller, a Brunswick County two-term Republican. Stiller was re-elected. The "NC Homeowners Alliance" is actually an organ of the NC Association of Realtors whose lobbyist Tim Kent is a contact for the group. Tim is a nice guy, a former executive director of the NC Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and, former newsman, who has always been helpful and thoughtful in his dealings with me.

          (read more below the fold........)

In a recent ranking of lobbyist effectiveness by the NC Center for Public Policy Research two honorees stand out amongst the 50 rated most effective: Bob Hall of watchdog Democracy North Carolina who works tirelessly against the influence of lobbying money and Meredith Norris who has been banned for lobbying for two years for unregistered lobbying.

Recently a friend and ethics reform advocate suggested the real possibility of forming a PAC to target specific legislators exhibiting egregrious ethically challenged behavior.

What is it about campaign finance in North Carolina that turns conventional wisdom on its head and that seduces otherwise normal, decent people, people that I know personally, into the insidious world of cash-based political influence? These are generally decent people, doing what they believe to be fair, legal and necessary. We have to change the rules so that decent people don't feel they have to participate in deceptions in order to play by the rules.

There are 120 House members and 50 State Senators. At the end of the 2005 legislative session there were 638 registered lobbyist representing 727 companies or organizations plus 68 registered legislative liaisons representing 40 state agencies. Lobbyists earn more money and distribute more money than legisators can readily access on their own as legislators. The numbers are hard to argue with.

With elections (almost) over and the State Legislature out of session attention to campaign finance reform has dropped off though legislative committees and commissions continue to meet. I have been struck by the insidious nature of political committees, the inconsistency of enforcement and the degree to which they act with impugnity.

Last week I had an appointment with an ophthalmologist, my personal protest against the actions and influence of optometrists in prior legislative sessions. As if to test my resolve, the power flickered on and off in the stormy weather. Let's hope the next legislative session will be endowed with resolve to control the invasive influence of political committee cash and provide a clear vision of transparent and ethical state legislative processes.

Comments

Joe Hackney?

If he is elected Speaker, will he push for campaign finance reform?

What about Dan Blue?

Is this inside-the-beltway decision influenced at all by voter preference?

CountryCrats - my thoughts, my blog.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Joe

I think that Joe Hackney would be an excellent Speaker who would wield the powers of the position wisely and, out from under the Black shadow, would advocate openly for more reform.

I think that Joe pulled his punches, at least publicly, though he was probably working hard behind the scenes for reform while others were working just as hard, behind the scenes, against reform. I hope he is more visible in the next session.

I think that a lot of House members that could have helped with reform punted to Deborah Ross who did an admirable job under the circumstances. She was hung out to dry as various articles of dirty laundry were taken off the line and stuffed back in House and Senate hampers.

There is too much power in the position of Speaker making it a target of influence and an instrument of abuse, especially as it is easier to cause damage than it is to create achievements, progressive or otherwise. It is still possible that Jim Black will return as Speaker however unlikely that seems.

I don't know...

sources say NO way.

CountryCrats - my thoughts, my blog.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Who championed campaign finance reform

in previous sessions? I'm thinking we won't hear about it until the new session starts, but we should beat that drum.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



***************************
Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Who championed campaign finance reform???????

"FairJudges.net" the 527 committee which received and spent over $200,000 in "non-partisan" judicial races on behalf of the three Democratic judges shown and one Republican incumbent (running against late convert Democrat "persona non grata" Rachel Hunter). Scott is a nice guy who always waves when I pass him in the street.*GF

Thanks to this billiant plan, The leadership of the Democrat party assure the Supreme Court of North Carolina to be totaly control by the Republican Pope Wing for the next 6 years. Justice deny! Is Justice loss to the little folks!

Campaign Finance Reform

Democracy North Carolina's latest (fall) newsletter highlights champions (and losers) on reform http://www.democracy-nc.org/nc/newsltr/fall06.pdf . The North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections coalition (started by Dem NC, Common Cause, League of Women Voters and the NC Center for Voter Education) did a scorecard http://www.ncvce.org/PDF/scorecard2006.pdf to evaluate each legislator. These organizations also worked to make campaign finance reform a campaign issue in September and October. If enough of us scream for reform, the legislators might give us some air time. We need more champions, but also need to sway those who will never be champions by reminding them that public financing is working in other states AND in NC.

got moxie

I'm a fan of

public elections financing.

527's are an interesting phenomenon. There are so many that sound like ordinary grassroots groups of citizens, but are really just "astroturf" creations of big industries or the political parties themselves, it's really maddening to try to sort them out. For instance, one that cropped up in Johnston in 2006 was J-PIE, a group created by, run by and maintained by the JoCo GOP leadership for the purpose of campaigning openly against one sitting School Board member. The school board is supposedly non-partisan here. heh. That's a good one, right?

I'm not familiar with details of making public campaign financing work, so I don't really have anything substantive to offer here, but if we paid our legislators more and instituted a means of publicly funding campaigns, it seems to me that our Lege might, over time, begin to look more like a truer sampling of the North Carolina citizenry. It also seems to me that even if Lege pay isn't raised and the General Assembly continues to be made up of only those who can afford to not work 40hrs a week in a year round job, taking large campaign donors out of the campaign funding equation might have some positive consequences for NC.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

527

527s or, as we like to call them around here, "4,999 committees" are hydras that resist containment. They report to either the FEC, the IRS, the State Board of Elections, or County Board, depending on the source and application of funds. They are hard to track, hard to identify and, as we have seen, the source of funds can be entirely corporate.

When large amounts of corporate money are involved 527s, in my mind, become laundering operations for money and influence at taxpayer expense. Why? Contributions reduce tax liability for the donors, are specifically exempted from taxation of the recipient and can trigger the spending of taxpayer money in publicly funded campaigns (as the GOP tried to do in response to FairJudges spending, albeit unsuccessfully).

PACs despite their flaws and loopholes have more transparency. The largest loophole in state politics is the $4,000 campaign limit that can be circumvented by an envelope containing multiple $4,000 contibutions from individual PAC contributors handed over with a smile, a nod and, a wink.

I might be mixing labels

J-PIE might be a PAC. Greg, can one tell which group is a PAC and which is a 527 without asking the SBOE? Do they have to tell people their designation?

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

J-PIE

Is probably a PAC registered in Johnston County only and not at the SBOE. It is not familiar to me as a state or federal PAC or 527. You'd have to look at the filings at the County BOE.

The Johnston County Republican Party gave $4,000 to Johnston Parents for Improved Education 4/19/06.
The address of the organization is:
709 Fernwood Dr
Clayton, NC 27520
which is the address of Jim Lee, a member of the Clayton Planning and Zoning Board.

Lee is quoted earlier this year in the Clayton News Star:

Though his children are no longer in the school system, Lee said he felt “morally bound” to fight the redistricting proposal.

“I am a citizen with children who graduated from schools in Clayton and I’m really bothered that any child will be taken out of Clayton city limits to go to Cleveland,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with Cleveland schools and the Cleveland community. It is a nice community, but this is no different than the chairman dissolving the Princeton schools.

“People can’t be so selfish as to say I want to get my child out of a trailer so other kids should travel to school outside the town limits.”

Thanks for that info, Greg.

I think I knew that, but had forgotten it.

As it happens, Jim Lee is also an officer in the JoCo GOP, to my knowledge. The treasurer of J-PIE is an officer in the JoCo Young Republicans, to my knowledge. It's possible some of my knowledge is out of date.

[Hijack warning ... ]
J-PIE endorsed only registered Repubicans. Had they been non-partisan, that wouldn't have happened. J-PIE had one goal on Nov. 7th. It had nothing to do with any of the things Jim Lee likes to bellyache about. They were out to defeat the one Dem running for re-election. I'm happy to report that they failed. :)

I'm waiting for Jim Lee to get morally bound enough to ask the 100% Republican County Commissioners why they can't figure out how to fund more schools so the problems he likes to loudly lay exclussively at the School Board's feet -- you know, everything that's wrong with Johnston County -- can begin to be addressed.
[Hijack over ... sorry.]

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

This depresses the hell out of me.

I've known about all this for a long time, but to see it brought home in such a compelling fashion is enough to break my heart.

What we are seeing the natural outgrowth of free-market fundamentalism: The world operates best when things are bought and sold. In this case, we're talking about the buying and selling of public trust, with no limitations on who can do the buying.

That's what was so despicable about Art Pope's electioneering escapades. But in that instance, it's the worst of the worst. He poured money from his corporations into elections, thereby upsetting the shaky balance of people-powered politics.

Is there a state which has made progress on this front? If there is, we should look at their laws and see what we might borrow. If there is not, we should ask our leaders to step up and make North Carolina the shining star for fair elections and restricting the role of corporate money in politics.

A, have you heard of

Progressive States Network? It looks like that would be a great place to look for state based ideas for campaign finance issues. I found it through David Sirota's blog (love that guy).

Progressive States whole purpose is to support progressive agenda issues in state legislatures. The conservatives have been pushing their agenda in legislatures for many many years through ALEC (think that's the name).

Hate to drop this on you guys with no further analysis and run, but ... work calls. :\

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Maine and Arizona

are two states we can look at. Oregon had some measures on the ballot this November, one of which passed, one did not. This comes from Progressive States Network:

Maine and Arizona have successfully implemented clean elections. In fact, of 399 candidates for state office in Maine last Tuesday, 317 were publicly financed, including 3 gubernatorial candidates. Funding can come from many sources. While Maine uses general fund dollars as its primary funding source, Arizona steers clear of tax-payer dollars. Its clean elections are financed in part by fees on for-profit and commercial lobbysists and a surcharge on civil and criminal fines.

And the reasoning behind efforts to publicly finance and limit lobby contributions sounds like what's been written here.

Clean elections allow candidates to spend more time talking with voters than asking donors and lobbyists for money. With clean elections, money and the ability to raise vast sums of it are less the deciding factors for which candidates win and which ideas become policy, than are the strength of ideas and genuine leadership.

Wouldn't THAT be nice. Winning on the strength of ideas!

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

I like 527s

I want to have a voice. I believe that 527s provide a voice that campaign finance reform has tried to stifle. You might feel better if you look at Wikipedia's list of the top 20 527s in 2006.

-- ge

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo
http://george.entenman.name

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo
https://george.entenman.name

I think we all want to have a voice.

But when that voice is trumped by people like Art Pope laundering corporate money, something is out of whack, IMO.

the net woots

"What is it about campaign finance in North Carolina that turns conventional wisdom on its head and that seduces otherwise normal, decent people, people that I know personally, into the insidious world of cash-based political influence?"

This is the real world of politics. You can't do anything progressive without power.

Let me guess: you would rather our country be ran on the Daily Kos "props" system?

power

Depends on how power is defined and how power is used. Money is not power. Money is fuel.

Water can flow around a rock, lift it, carry it, erode it, smash it against other rocks. OK that's enough zen.

I certainly believe in turning conventional wisdom on its head. Heck, I even believe in changing the system from within but it's a long, slow, process that can wear down the most tenacious advocates.

Joining the country club to change its policies is not a very efficient use of time or money. Besides, it's easy to get comfortable in the clubhouse.

On the other hand standing outside the clubhouse chanting with a sign won't necessarily change things either. Besides, it's easy to get comfortable as the underdog.

Far more effective to imagine, plan and execute progressive alternatives.

You can go tell Kos about it yourself. I'm busy.

A point

for you, bayou.

You can't do anything progressive without power.

However, I would submit that power comes by virtue of the office one holds, not by virtue of the money. One only needs the money to get to the office. If we have the means of taking the money requirement out of the process and replacing it with a requirement for good ideas, why not do it?

When obtaining public office is based more on the cash value a candidate can raise than on the strength of his ideas, integrity, intelligence and work ethic, the system is set up for power-buying and the undermining of the public good.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Beautifully said.

When obtaining public office is based more on the cash value a candidate can raise than on the strength of his ideas, integrity, intelligence and work ethic, the system is set up for power-buying and the undermining of the public good.

Thanks, A

I don't have to tell y'all ... the most glaring example of the unbalanced "money > ideas" equation is in NC-08, 2006. A million dollars in ad money for only one candidate can certainly have an overshadowing effect on 0.2% of voters, even when the contest of ideas, intelligence and and integrity clearly favor the candidate with fewer dollars.

2008 will be different, though. :) Larry will have more money, and the millionaire textile heir will be retiring.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."