Statement from Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, regarding the sentencing of former House Speaker Jim Black:
The ugly story of former Speaker Jim Black's abuse of power is not yet finished. New evidence of possible corruption involving a high-powered lobbyist linked to the video-poker industry demands the immediate and full attention of state and federal prosecutors.
From the beginning, Democracy North Carolina has pushed to hold the donors of illegal money accountable, not just the politicians. Now, with the revelation of a $500,000 "loan" from a video-poker lobbyist, we have come full circle from our original complaint in June 2004 alleging a conspiracy by the video-poker industry to funnel illegal donations into Jim Black's campaign. Our complaint prompted the State Board of Elections to obtain the bank records of Jim Black's campaign and, with other investigators, begin to unravel a nasty web of wrongdoing that supported federal subpoenas, hearings, indictments, and state and federal convictions. We congratulate and thank all of these government officials for pursuing this case.
Contrary to the statement of his attorney, Jim Black has not cooperated with federal and state investigators, and his explanation of the $500,000 transaction is far-fetched at best. Some may wish to "put this sad chapter behind us," but too many mysteries remain unsolved, including those involving the money suppliers who participated in, and benefited from, the corruption of Jim Black. Corruption is fundamentally a crime against democracy, against we-the-people and our ability to have honest, fair self-government. It must be rooted out and defeated.
We need to apply firm punishment against wrongdoers, as well as provide incentives that encourage politicians to reject the corrosive money chase. More than four times as much money moved through state legislative campaigns in 2006 as did just a dozen years ago. Too much of that money comes with strings attached, strings that can entangle and bring down well-intentioned leaders. The video-poker industry alone supplied more than $1 million in disclosed money to state elections from 2000 through 2006.
Democracy North Carolina continues to recommend providing candidates with an alternative supply of clean money, attached only to voters' interests and contingent only on candidates satisfying certain public-trust conditions. There is no simple antidote to corruption, but without addressing the root cause by providing a "voter-owned" public financing alternative, we are handicapping our leaders and forsaking our duty as responsible citizens. And we are dooming ourselves to the disappointment of more failed public officials. Before it goes home this year, the General Assembly should strengthen and expand public financing options for the health of our state and our democracy.
Bob Hall, Executive Director
Democracy North Carolina