State Ethics Reform Press

A few press releases went out Monday July 17th dealing with State Legislature ethics issues.

One from the NC Coalition for Lobbying Reform calling for reforms to actually be enacted before the session winds down was signed by:
Former Governor Jim Hunt
Former Governor Jim Holshauser
UNC System President Emeritus William Friday
Former U.S. Congressman Bill Cobey
Former Speaker of the House Dan Blue
Former State Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr
Raleigh businessman Jim Goodmon

Another from Joe Sinsheimer shows how Rep. Jim Harrell III, a Jim Black protege, has converted more than $17,000 from his campaign account to personal use in the last six months. Harrell gained recent notoriety for accepting Canes tickets from lobbyists after signing a no-gift registry.

Chris Fitzsimon says at NCPolicyWatch that No just any reform will do.

Monday brought more evidence of why they are needed. Democracy North Carolina released a report showing that lobbyists contributed $450,000 to legislative candidates in the 2004 election cycle. The top three lobbyist contributors gave a total of more $85,000 between them.

That’s a lot of access and that’s only part of the story. Democracy North Carolina Research Director Bob Hall points out that the public gets very little information about how much lobbyists raise, since most of the lobbyists spending for fundraising is not reported.

Hall found only 11 cases in 2003-2004 in which legislative candidates reported the food, liquor, and other in-kind donations made by lobbyists in connection with hosting fundraisers. Most political observers in Raleigh will tell you that there are more than 11 fundraisers by lobbyists in a month during an election year, many at the lobbyists’ homes.

Comments

Ethics Reform Update

Joe Sinsheimer has issued another press release today, this time showing how Rep. Nelson Cole has taken over $10,000 from auto dealers and has suppressed legislation that would enable counties to collect about $80 million in unpaid personal property taxes while streamlining property tax & auto registration payments.

Joe has also posted a copy of the Democracy North Carolina report that was issued yesterday

So many foxes

in our North Carolina hen house.

I appreciate you keeping us up to speed on all the sleaze dripping from our elected officials. But I have one question: How do you keep from just getting t-totally depressed about this miserable state of affairs?

It's funnier than The Daily Show

A 2 year old that keeps me LMAO.
A 2 year old that will inherit this state of affairs.
Bozos that are trashing our rights, our air and our water.
Doing something about it.
It's funnier than the Daily Show. (You can't make up some of this stuff)

Un-Reform Update

The State Senate chickened out on lobbying reform with a voice vote and no roll call. Way to CYA and everyone else's with a "you scratch my butt, I'll scratch your butt and we'll all stay on our butts to let lobbyists do our fundraising". Here's the kicker:

Reform advocates and the N.C. Professional Lobbyists Association support a ban on lobbyists raising campaign money.

Reform & debate fall short

Chris Fitzsimon summarized the state of state ethics reform yesterday with: Senate reform and debate fall short

Folks ..... would have seen a carefully orchestrated and controlled Senate debate, designed to avoid a recorded vote on the fundraising ban and cut short before every lawmaker had his or her say or a chance to offer more amendments.

The House and Senate will give final approval to a reform package, probably sometime next week. But things unless change dramatically, lobbyists who can raise campaign cash will still have more influence than those who can’t. And it all will have been decided in a debate as flawed as the reforms themselves.

I also wanted to add a direct link to the Democracy-NC Press Release which has not yet been indexed on the Democracy-NC site

I'm keeping up this drumbeat while the Legislature is still in session because change will only happen before they adjourn.

The Latest NC GOP Newsletter

Describes a call from Ferrell Blount to Jerry Meek to urge the legislature not to leave without passing ethics reform. Here's the text of that letter.

Dear Chairman Meek:

I hope this letter finds you doing well.

My wife often says that my mood drastically improves when there is talk of the legislature adjourning. [When in doubt, lead off with your personal problems; good strategy. —Lance] Until we have a Republican majority, I will continue to lose sleep at nights ["at nights"? As in "we're studying English tomorrow at schools"?] worrying that the Democrats in the General Assembly will find more ways to raise taxes and increase the size and scope of government. [Maybe if you slept better you'd be thinking more clearly about the proper purposes and scope of government.]

However, there is one major item of business that may be left unfinished: ethics reform.

In February, I proposed that we hold a joint press conference to urge the citizens of North Carolina to contact members of the General Assembly and demand that ethics reforms be enacted into law. You politely deferred to the work being conducted by the House Select Committee on Ethics and Governmental Reform. [Jerry had this crazy notion that neither he nor Ferrell had been elected to run the State's business.]

Unfortunately, meaningful ethics reform continues to elude us. The clock is ticking, and it troubles me to think that, despite the high minded talk earlier this year by elected officials, the legislature will adjourn without passing comprehensive ethics reform! [No argument here!]

Last month, the N.C. Republican Party met in New Bern [in secret and on the down low] and the N.C. Democrat Party [run a grammar check next time, Ferrell] met in High Point for our respective state conventions. During those conventions, both parties passed platforms [some saner than others, not to name any names] that call upon our elected officials to hold the highest ethical standards. It is clear that the rank and file members of both political parties desire open, honest, and ethical government. [How very frustrating for you!]

I am planning on calling Republican legislators this week. My message will be clear: do not vote to adjourn without passing meaningful ethics reforms.

My actions alone will not be enough. Your party is in the majority in both houses.

I encourage you to contact Democrat legislators [again! It's rude to switch back and forth between English and Moronic, especially before an audience you know to be unfamiliar with the latter!], especially House Speaker Jim Black and Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight, and tell them that it is time to end the culture of corruption [can you use "culture of corruption" without getting copyright clearance from DeLay and Abramoff?] that has tainted the North Carolina General Assembly.

The last time I wrote you I closed with a quote from Woodrow Wilson that discussed how his love for America is greater than his love for party politics. This time I leave you with the words from another notable Democrat Bess Myerson. Myerson said, "The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference."
Sincerely, [Yadda yadda]

Note to Feral Blount

Go get your rabies shots. And by the way, what did you do with Grandma?

My imagined reply from Chairman Meek

Hey Ferrell,
Until you can reference our party by its correct name, the Democratic Party, and not the name your polls suggest you use, the Democrat Party, I want nothing to do with you. I'm sick of talking to people who only care about framing issues in the right words to turn on their base and not about actually caring about the people themselves.

Kiss off.

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

You crack me up!

That letter was hard to read. It isn't very well written, is it?



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

Great stuff, Greg.

Thank god for the Independent.

Thanks for the heads up!

Great stuff. Bob does a good job of summing up the Pope scandal in just a few paragraphs.

Indictments coming this week?

This just in from NCSPIN:

Indictments coming this week?

Word on the street is that even though the Grand Jury is meeting this week and even though they heard testimony from Meredith Norris and former House Rules Chair (now Utilities Commissioner) Bill Culpepper, we have been told not expect indictments to be forthcoming this week. Wednesday’s session also included Joe Henderson, director of the State Property Office.

The press was alerted by some “reliable” sources of the visits by Norris and Culpepper. Everyone knows that Norris has been under investigation for her role in some of the Jim Black affairs dealing with appointments, campaign contributions, and lobbying. Culpepper is a new name to surface, but one has to assume his appearance has to be connected with his close association as Black’s enforcer in the House. Most are clueless about Henderson’s appearance.

Another reliable source told us that Speaker Black had put out the word to his friends not to be surprised if there was bad news in the next day or so. What that means is anyone’s guess. We do know this. If the number of TV media trucks parked this morning in front of the federal courthouse in Raleigh is any indicator, we might get some news today or tomorrow.

We now hear that two lawyers will be indicted for being bag men collecting checks for former Rep. Michael Decker and Rep. Steve Wood. State Board of Elections hearings yielded evidence that the checks were bundled and delivered to Speaker Black for distribution to the two candidates. Only Decker’s were distributed to the candidate, however. We understand the charge will be that the lawyers were conspiring to influence an election, the election being that of House Speaker. This “conspiracy to influence” charge might be a smoking gun and may be part of the reason why Culpepper was invited to testify.

One source tells SPINCycle that some of the federal agents are wondering why things are dragging out so long. They completed their investigations months ago and don’t know why it is taking so long to get the indictments they are confident are coming. By the way, this same source tells us to expect Black to be indicted. We also were told that Meredith Norris has not been cooperative with the feds’ investigations.

Truth be told, this story has dragged out a long time. You can expect that to mean one of two things. The first is that they keep getting new info that implicates more people and will result in even more indictments when the hammer drops. The second scenario is that they can’t get enough to prosecute and keep fishing, hoping to land a trophy. Hard to say which is most likely.

Either way political observers believe that Jim Black grows stronger each day there are no indictments. If Black isn’t indicted this month (even if he is indicted next month) political wonks already have the response planned. It was those evil Republicans who are trying to play politics with the elections. A Republican US Attorney has done all this to make Jim Black and the Democrats look bad and the whole story should be dismissed as mere politics. Will it play in Lizard Lick?

Get real on ethics reform

From a Charlotte Observer OpEd yesterday by former N.C. Speaker of the House Dan Blue, a Democrat, and former U.S. Rep. Bill Cobey, former chairman of the N.C. Republican Party. Both are members of the NC Coalition for Lobbying Reform

As the N.C. General Assembly winds down over the next several days, only one important question really remains -- will this year's lobbying and ethics reform be "real" or "pretend"?

It's really looking like pretend.

One way to put the "real" back into the reform proposals is to ban lobbyists from raising money for politicians. The reason is simple: Lobbyists should not be in the business, or at least perceived to be in the business, of purchasing influence. Lawmakers are elected to represent everyone in their district. They should feel no special affinity for or responsibility to lobbyists they see every day who may also be helping finance their political campaigns.

As the examples just posted at Dirt on the dumps show, the tsunami of money from lobbyists is overwhelming and irresistible.

Legislators should get real over the next few days -- real on reform. Ban lobbyists from serving as campaign fundraisers, tighten up the gift ban on lobbyists and give an independent State Ethics Commission the power to recommend disciplinary proceedings and conduct open hearings.

I'm keeping up this drumbeat while the Legislature is still in session because change will only happen before they adjourn.

I'd go further

Or maybe farther . . . all the way to A COMPLETE BAN ON PAC MONEY.

PACs are not people. PACs have no right to anything other than what We the People grant them. I say we grant them NO SAY IN ELECTORAL POLITICS.
NONE. ZILCH. NADA. ZERO.

Will be posting on this later.

A

PS Need to close your italics tag.

Tag, I'm it.

Thanks, I was wondering why the whole preview page was italics. too quick to post.

More paste less speed.

Secret Hearings

An article in today's News & Observer "Ethics bill shuts out public" shows how NC lawmakers want to have secret hearings for ethically challenged colleagues to save them from embarassment.

A new state ethics law would close off to the public any complaints filed about public officials -- and hearings that happen as a result of the complaints -- until action is taken, under the latest version of a reform bill now being debated.

Closing off complaints and hearings, as spelled out in the bill, is different from how the state currently handles ethics accusations against executive branch officials.

It's also different from how the state Board of Elections, for example, handles similar complaints of wrongdoing against candidates and lawmakers: Elections complaints and hearings are conducted in the open.

It looks like they want to turn these ethics reform bills into a poison pills to ensure that they never get passed.

Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina and a member of the reform group said making ethics complaints and hearings open to the public is important for transparency. "It's a mistake to have blanket provisions that it's all confidential," Hall said. "It ought to be open."

Sen. Tony Rand, a leading Democrat from Fayetteville, filed a bill early on that kept ethics hearings open to the public.

But he recently defended the idea of keeping hearings closed, saying that legislators are worried about frivolous complaints tarnishing someone's good name

I'm keeping up this drumbeat while the Legislature is still in session because change will only happen before they adjourn.

Twas the night before adjournment...

Looks like I'll be wrapping up this thread Thursday as a yet-to-be-seen ethics bill has made it out from behind closed doors in the Legislature. Early reports indicate no surprises.

No doubt there will be plenty online reporting tomorrow but for an early view check out Chris Fitzsimon:
A missed chance for real reform

It bans lobbyists from bundling contributions, but the provision is drawn so tightly that it doesn’t prohibit a lobbyist from collecting unlimited numbers of campaign checks for a legislator, as long as someone else actually delivers them.

The bill does not ban lobbyists from raising money or even hosting fundraisers in their living rooms, a ban that was supported by not only the House Select Committee, but also by House Speaker Jim Black and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.

The bill sets up an ethics commission with far less authority over legislators than reformers sought, and also closes ethics commission hearings to the press and public, a retreat from current law, which requires the meetings to be open.

The legislation includes a lobbyist gift ban, but includes a long list of exceptions that make the ban almost meaningless. One of them allows legislators to accept “entertainment” associated with an educational event, meaning that a legislator on a panel at a meeting in Pinehurst could also be treated to a round of golf by an interest group that employs a lobbyist.

Another exemption is even more troubling. It allows lobbyists to give legislators anything they want as long as it is not associated with lobbying, whatever that means.

GregFlynn

I've been following this post. I have been getting more news from you on this than the Charlotte Observer reports. Thank you. Great job.



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

Ditto ditto

What she (^) said.

Sausage

I guess we won't see this sausage until after it's been cooked. Speaking of food, I attended the Common Sense Foundation Legislative Review Breakfast this morning. On the menu was egg and bacon, Grier Martin and Tony Rand but no sausage and, according to them, no pork in the budget.

Rand was somewhat inscrutable and worked the crowd with one-liners. Martin was little more open. He acknowledged that flaws would be found in the ethics bill but was defensive of the measures that were included. Martin expressed less concern about contributions made or raised by individual lobbyists and more concern about the disproportionate influence of special interest money. I'm still trying to split that hair. Martin wants to see how the dust settles from current campaign finance reforms before pushing for further changes. He also suggested that major changes, like public financing, are unlikely as long as the legislative majority is slim.

Tony Rand said:

We will look back at the session as something that changed the framework of the North Carolina Legislature.

Grier Martin said:

(The ethics bill) represents a sea change in the way we do business in North Carolina.

Let's hope so.

Luckily

I don't eat meat. That doesn't necessarily make me a vegetarian, though, I once had a young conservative neighbor who, in true wingnut tradition, just had to call me the "militant vegetarian".