Government ethics groups protest ‘dark money’ bill to open NC elections to more anonymous spending

As state lawmakers prepare to pass a bill that would allow corporations and anonymous donors to more directly fund individual politicians in North Carolina, advocates for government ethics and transparency flocked to the state Legislature Thursday to denounce the changes.

Current state law requires politicians to disclose who gives them campaign money. They can’t take money from companies at all. And they can only accept a maximum of $6,400 from individuals and political groups.

But now critics say the changes North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders are proposing would create a huge loophole: allowing unlimited amounts of untraceable “dark money” to flow into politicians’ campaigns, through state political parties as middlemen to use, and without the public. can see who is behind it.

“The ability to monitor and understand who is influencing our elections is truly diminished by these policies,” said Ann Webb of the ethics reform group Common Cause North Carolina.

The Senate voted to approve the changes last week, prompting all Democratic members of the chamber to skip the vote in protest. The state House plans to vote on whether to approve the changes Tuesday afternoon.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper could veto the bill — on Tuesday, Cooper’s office told WRAL that “political donations should be more transparent, not less” — but Republicans have enough votes in the Legislature to override Cooper’s vetoes and they did it every time. session.

Republican leaders say the change will level the playing field in the race for governor, replacing Cooper’s term-limited term.

The latest campaign finance data shows that Democratic candidate Josh Stein had raised $19.1 million in February, with $12.7 million left to spend.

Republican candidate Mark Robinson was millions of dollars behind, having raised $10.7 million during the same period, with $4.5 million still to spend.

Super PACs spend millions

Although current campaign finance laws in North Carolina usually place strict limits on the amount of money politicians can get from a single source, there are limited exceptions: they can personally lend their own campaigns as much money as they want, and political parties can also give candidates as they want to. as much as they want.

The new changes to state law would loosen rules for state political parties, now allowing them to accept money from a type of federal political action committee commonly called Super PACs.

Unlike individual politicians or political parties, Super PACs can keep their donors secret. They can also receive unlimited amounts of funding, including from otherwise prohibited sources such as unions and corporations. For that reason, Super PACs are not allowed to donate money directly to politicians or political parties in North Carolina.

Democrats say the changes are clearly intended to let corporations and others donate anonymously to Robinson’s campaign by giving their money to Super PACs, which can then send it to Robinson through the NCGOP.

A campaign spokesman for Robinson declined to comment. House Speaker Tim Moore confirmed last week that the changes are aimed at the governor’s race, although he said he had not personally spoken to Robinson about them.

“The way the rules were interpreted seemed to tip the balance in favor of the way the Democrats did it,” Moore said.

That’s a reference to a 2020 memo from the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which indicated that a major national Democratic group had taken the necessary extra steps to keep its funds segregated, based on their source — allowing them to divert money to the state could direct. Democratic Party without breaking state laws.

A similar Republican group had not taken the same steps to legally give money to the North Carolina Republican Party; GOP leaders say that’s why the law needs to be changed.

“What we’re trying to do is level the playing field,” Moore said.

Linked to bill aimed at demonstrators

The campaign finance changes have drawn further criticism for the way they moved through the Legislature, with limited debate and the inclusion of an unrelated bill targeting protesters.

Republican lawmakers initially proposed banning people from wearing masks in public for health reasons, saying they believe protesters have taken advantage of that rule, and Covid-era standards on mask-wearing, to conceal their identity to hide during demonstrations. Banning masks would make it easier for police to search, detain and possibly arrest people for wearing masks that hide part of their faces, the proposal’s supporters and critics all said.

But after that proposal received widespread backlash, including from fellow Republican lawmakers, legislative leaders agreed to a compromise that would allow people to still wear masks in public to stop the spread of disease, but clarified that it had to be a medical grade mask.

The bill would also increase criminal penalties for protesters who block a road, and allow civil lawsuits against organizers of protests that end up blocking a road, even if the organizer was not personally present.

“Protesting is part of democracy,” said Dawn Blagrove, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who leads the group Emancipate North Carolina. “Freezing the right to protest is a surefire sign that you are afraid of the people. And if you fear the people, you fear their power.”

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