Burr's money, part two: The Charlotte Leadership Dinner Committee

A rather harmless sounding name, isn't it? Evoking images of country-club couples thrilled to be part of the dinner party circuit, painstakingly groomed and coiffed in an effort to avoid being grist for the gossip mill, the clink of fine China and crystal and the low hum of conversation eventually silenced so the cause du jour can be addressed. That may sound like a cynical assessment, but it's not. Philanthropy of this nature has brought relief to millions in this world, and we need more of it. But that formula can also be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, leaving us with a government that represents a much smaller percent of the population.

In the final few months leading up to the 2004 U.S. Senate election in North Carolina, it appeared that Democratic candidate Erskine Bowles would be victorious. But then, as has happened in so many other races, the last-minute nasty television ads came into play:

The turnaround in a race that has pitted Bill Clinton's former chief of staff against the Bush administration's hand-picked choice for the North Carolina Senate seat came after a series of late placed ads released by Burr linking Bowles to policies unpopular with many Tarheel voters.

One ad labels Bowles as "Clinton's chief negotiator," on the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade bill many say has contributed to the decline of the state's manufacturing, furniture and tobacco industries.

"Wrong on NAFTA, wrong on China, Erskine Bowles is just wrong and he's hiding the truth just like Bill Clinton," the ad states.

A second ad claims Bowles voted for legislation reducing troops and cutting military spending under the Clinton Administration, "while al-Qaida terrorists declared war on America."

From a 7-8 point lead to dead even to a 4-5 point deficit, all in just a couple of weeks. Amazing. Nauseating, but amazing. You don't have to be 100% truthful or accurate with these political hit-pieces, but you do need a wad of cash to pay for them.

Under the guidance of the RSCC's fundraising guru Keith Davis, the Charlotte Leadership Dinner Committee was formed to raise that wad of cash. Active for only one month (9/13/2004 thru 10/13/2004), this PAC raised an astonishing amount of money.

Various Bank of America executives contributed a total of $113,500. Here are a few of the big spenders:

Gregory Curl= $10,000
Alvaro Demolina= $15,000
Michael Malone= $15,000
Liam & Lori McGee= $15,000
Marc Oken= $15,000

Not to be outdone, Wachovia executives contributed a total of $127,500:

Ben & Leah Williams= $15,000
Mark Treanor= $15,000
Don & Bev Truslow= $15,000
G. Kennedy & Kathylee Thompson= $50,000 (wow)

Among other notable big-spenders was Skipper Beck, whose unfortunate plane crash brought about the down-sizing of the staff at HushHush (find out on your own, I'm no gossip!) Skipper and Lynn contributed $50,000. That's Fifty Thousand Dollars for those who are tired of seeing zeroes.

Then there's a doctor/wife duo from Evans, Georgia, John and Nancy Richards, representing "Innovative Health Strategies" (good luck finding anything), who contributed another Fifty Thousand Dollars. Must be very innovative.

And then there's a guy from Fort Worth Texas, John Kleinheinz, who manages a mutual fund that leans heavily into the health care sector. John saw fit to write a check for $25,000 to Richard Burr.

And then there are the "retired" folks again, who sure seem to be pretty active. They squeezed $137,500 out of their "fixed" incomes to push Burr into his Senate seat.

The moral of this very expensive story is: We can try to play their game, watering and nourishing the netroots to gather enough farthings to run our own snazzy television ads. Or we can put our efforts into learning and teaching things of substance, so the voting public is not so ready to be swayed by these last-minute works of fiction, and maybe, just maybe, all that money will some day be no longer necessary or effective.


You got something against free markets?

According to the Puppetshow, if something can be bought and sold, it should be bought and sold, including seats in the US Senate, the NC House of Representatives, the Wake County School Board, wherever, whatever, whenever. It's the American way, and with our two party system, it's basically a zero-sum game. All of which underscores my enthusiasm for voter-owned elections and the good work being done by Democracy NC. Because as long as unrestricted money is allowed to buy elections, I don't see any end to the pattern you've so clearly described.

Can you imagine a future in which raising big bucks from big contributors is seen as a liability? Maybe we should be working toward that.

I have to say,

looking at these quantities, whatever campaign finance reform that has been enacted up to date has been a total waste of time. Whether it's soft money, hard money, or feels-just-right money, it's still getting in there, worse than it ever was. Crazy.

Finance reform is a failure.

I agree with scharrison that campaign finance reform has failed. Now, I don't know where the money is coming from and I don't always know if a candidate is behind an ad or if a rogue committee is.

On the 2004 front, I think I remember a few negative ads from Erskine that got pushed back on him that occurred around the time of the switch from leading to trailing. Not as epic as the Elizabeth Dole godless FAIL but I think it marked the turn. I believe it was about cancer treatment.