Republican greed

Harris unloads both barrels on Tillis for pay-to-play politics

And it's actually a legitimate complaint:

But one of his leading challengers, Rev. Mark Harris, is hoping to stir things up and is planning to repeatedly criticize Tillis's decision to remain as House Republican leader while running for the Senate. Tillis is able to raise money for his Senate campaign from lobbyists with interests before the state's General Assembly, but it's illegal to raise such funds for his state legislative campaigns. Framing the speaker's conduct as "pay to play," Harris suggested the activity was unethical.

"It would have been better judgment for him to step down as speaker. It opens the door for questions of ethics to be raised," Harris told National Journal, arguing that it could become a glaring vulnerability if Tillis wins the GOP nomination against Sen. Kay Hagan. "If I had one thing to do differently [in the campaign], I would have demanded he step down as speaker in October."

Tillis is blatantly taking advantage of a loophole in our campaign finance/lobbying laws by doing this, and it should be an issue for voters (both Primary and General) to contemplate. And unless I missed it somehow, our NC reporters have left this issue alone. Maybe he isn't "breaking the law" in the classic sense, but it is definitely newsworthy.

Parsing the dollars: political spending in NC's U.S. Senate race

More fossil fuel influence coming to your living room:

The most recent big injection of political spending in North Carolina came April 1 from American Crossroads, a super PAC created by Republican operative Karl Rove. The group spent $1.1 million on an ad for Tillis. FEC records show that one of American Crossroads’ biggest recent donors was Contran Corp., a Dallas manufacturing and nuclear waste management company that gave $1 million. Contran’s late owner, Harold Simmons, was a major conservative Republican contributor.

American Crossroads’ major donors also include Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, the founder of Red McCombs Automotive Group in Texas and a former owner of the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs. He is listed as giving $60,000. Tulsa coal executive Joseph Craft III gave $500,000 through his JWC III Revocable Trust.

While I am deeply concerned about the possibility of losing the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, more and more I'm wanting Kay Hagan to win so we can send a message to people like Charles and David Koch and Karl Rove: you're not wanted here, and the money you sling around is and will be wasted.

Pay-to-play politics Tillis-style

You scratch my back, I'll give you some television time:

It was the spring of 2013, and lawmakers were busy drafting more than 1,700 bills, including a handful that had big implications for companies that manage homeowners associations and condominiums. At the same time, a group called Alliance for Better Communities, which is bankrolled by property management companies, gave four donations totaling $51,000 to a nonprofit closely tied to Republican state House leaders.

There's a lot more to this sordid tale, but (as is almost always the case) the people slinging money around were able to do so legally. Proving once again, there's often a huge difference between "legal" and "ethical."

Dinner-Party Wos hands out more golden tickets

The contracts just keep getting juicier:

The firm Alvarez & Marsal is best known for being tapped in 2008 to manage the bankruptcy of financial giant Lehman Brothers at a cost of nearly a half-billion dollars. Critics of the financial bailout said that bill was too high.

The contract calls for work to be done by eight people with salaries ranging from $242 to $473 per hour and an “intern” earning $84 per hour. One of the consultants, a “director,” is slated for 2,040 hours of work for total earnings over the year of $803,760.

Republicans love to crow about how government should be run like a business, but you know what? If any private-sector manager had made as many mistakes as Aldona Wos, who now apparently feels the need to bring in blue-chip consultants to untangle her mess, that manager would have been fired a long time ago. The word "inept" doesn't even cover it. And like dog poop on the carpet, that ineptitude is transferring to both McCrory and the NCGA, who are responsible for her continued employment.

A closer look at Greg Brannon's lawsuit

The doctor is in, but the salesman has something to say first:

Lampuri, a Raleigh-area plumber whose wife went to Brannon’s medical clinic, put $100,000 into Neogence in September 2010. Both Lampuri and Piazza received a convertible promissory note, which would mature at a certain date and allow a return of the investment or conversion to ownership stock.

In a deposition, Lampuri describes how Brannon talked business with him when his wife came for monthly doctor appointments during her pregnancy. “He pretty much spoke about Neogence every time my wife was in stirrups,” he told attorneys.

Not only was Brannon peddling questionable investments, he was also flirting heavily with medical malpractice. I doubt if the doctor's bill mentioned financial advice in the charges. Something similar happened to me a few years ago. Took my mom to her (primary care) doctor for a semi-annual checkup, and after waiting for 45 minutes for the doctor to grace us with his presence, he breezed in, checked her BP real quick, and then launched into a sales pitch for the dietary supplements he sold on the side. Actually it wasn't on the side, it was right there in the examination room. He's no longer practicing medicine.

Economic Development Partnership moves forward on its own power

Legislative authorization is for suckers:

Almeida told the group that the commerce department was ready to move some divisions into the partnership in the first quarter of 2014, according to a report published Dec. 6 by political news website Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, asked Almeida what statute allowed the department to move those divisions, ncinsider reported.

When Almeida said the department was simply following the guidelines in Senate Bill 127, Jackson fired back, according to ncinsider: “Refresh my memory someone. I don’t think Senate Bill 127 passed, did it?”

He’s right. It didn’t.

Which just goes to show, when you have a group of extremely wealthy and influential private businessmen who want something to happen in the government, it's going to happen, one way or another. It also exposes a gaping fault in our lawmaking system: if something fails to pass muster as an individual piece of legislation, just insert it into the budget and voilà. It's a done deal. What's also alarming about the quasi-legal evolution of this group: if they didn't need a Legislative mandate to begin operation, how much are they going to care about Legislative oversight? Speaking of wielding authority without being elected:

NC polticians funded by "criminal gambling enterprise" per the Oklahoma AG

Gee, I don't know, maybe someone here should look into this:

A checking account used last year to make $235,000 in donations to the campaigns of dozens of North Carolina politicians contained the laundered proceeds of a criminal gambling enterprise, according to Oklahoma's top law enforcement official.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt finalized an agreement last month in which Burns agreed to forfeit $3.5 million from seized bank accounts. Court filings show $1 million of that forfeited money comes from the same checking account Burns used to send political donations to the campaigns of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.

And several other candidates, including some Democrats. And a whopping $55,000 straight to the NC Republican Party, just a handful of days before the 2012 election. Hat-tip to WRAL for keeping tabs on this. Somebody has to.

NC Republicans open the floodgate for campaign donations

And close the blinds on where that money is coming from:

Starting Jan. 1, state candidates and political action committees can take maximum contributions of $5,000 per election, up from the current $4,000 benchmark. The top donation to judicial candidates will leap to the same level from the current $1,000 plateau.

Other campaign finance shifts taking effect in the new year include: Allowing political parties to use corporate donations to pay up to three staffers whose primary duties are administrative in nature. Corporate donations are currently limited to building expenses, repealing the state’s pioneering “stand by your ad” law that required candidates to declare in advertisements that they “approved this message,” and ending the requirement that outside groups identify their five largest donors on political print advertisements.

This is another one of those issues where the vast majority of voters would prefer less money and more disclosure. In a perfect world, they would punish Republicans for making the political process even more sleazy, but we don't live there. If we did, people like David Lewis would be a laughing stock:

Republican assault on the middle class continues

Saving for your children's college tuition will no longer be shielded from taxes:

It is one of roughly 40 tax breaks being eliminated under a sweeping new tax law approved by Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature this year that will lower personal and corporate income taxes. About 38,000 taxpayers took advantage of the 529 tax break and saved a collective $6.1 million in the 2011 tax year, according to the latest figures available from the state Department of Revenue.

“The tax reform effort was and continues to be focused on broadening the base, which means broadening the areas which can be taxed,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican and tax plan architect.

By "broadening the base" he means shifting the revenue burden down to the middle- and lower-classes, while allowing the top to keep more of their ill-gotten gains "earnings." And by discouraging parental savings like this, the student loan burden will likely increase as well, so the interest will be collected on both ends of this raw deal. Thanks a lot, GOP.

Tillis tries to defend tax reform with incoherent rambling

Of course, that's just a guess. Analysts are still trying to decipher what he said:

But Tillis, a 53-year-old former IBM executive who has the strong backing of the GOP establishment but is by no means the prohibitive front-runner, is betting that Southern Democrats who once thrived here are dying breeds because of the liberal policies coming out of Washington. He is defiant about North Carolina’s hard-right turn, calling it a “reform agenda unlike any other state in the United States.”

“I think for the most part, what I see from the folks who are opposing our agenda is whining coming from losers,” he said in an interview in his Raleigh office. “They lost, they don’t like it, and they are going to try to do everything they can to, I think, cast doubt on things that I think are wise and that the average citizen when they know what we’re doing, I think, like it.”

Um, what? Did Thom's doctor cut him off from caffeinated coffee or something? I think his repetitive use of the phrase "I think" (four times, no less) is an effort to jump-start his brain, not unlike when you get a straight-gear car rolling and then pop the clutch. It's not working.

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