Outside money talks in NC

Published June 27, 2024

By Gary Pearce

How rotten and corrupt is campaign financing in North Carolina?

Worse than you think.

Capitol Broadcasting Company has exposed the impact of outside money – “dark” money, from anonymous big-money donors – on our elections. They term it “astonishing” in a series released this week.

CBC Editorial reports, “Increasingly, the money influencing North Carolina elections isn’t raised or spent directly by a candidate’s campaign operations or a state political party. More and more, the money comes from or through organizations without any identifiable affiliation to candidates, campaigns, political parties.”

Exhibit A is the 2022 Senate race. CBC said, “82% of the $88 million spent on behalf of Republican Ted Budd, who went on to win the election, came through outside campaign committees.”

That is, more than 80% of the $88 million spent to elect one of our U.S. Senators came from unidentifiable donors.

Almost 50 years ago, in the wake of Richard Nixon’s multiple crimes, Republicans and Democrats sought transparency above all when they passed campaign-reform laws.

They believed we should know who is financing candidates’ campaigns – and to whom elected officials might be beholden.

As Bert Bennett, the political wizard behind Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford, used to say: “Who’s got a hook in them?”

Budd’s opponent Democrat Cheri Beasley was massively outspent: $88 million to $62 million. But just 36% of her money came from outside sources; her campaign raised the rest. We know who gave her that money.

It’s a wonder she came as close as she did. She lost by 3.2%, about 120,000 votes out of 3.8 million cast.

Yes, Democrats belly up to the outside-money bar. But they’re sherry-sippers compared to the Republican binge-drinkers.

“It is no surprise,” CBC noted, “that the Republican leaders in the General Assembly are looking to change state campaign laws to both allow wealthy individuals to pump unlimited amounts of money into candidates and campaigns with little requirements to disclose the specific identity of the donors.”

Today, we know wealthy donors have a hook in politicians. But we don’t know who they are. Over the years, big money has found myriad ways around those laws.

The inevitable result is government that serves the money, not the many.

Seth Effron, CBC opinion editor, has shone a spotlight on this dark corner of politics. I recommend it.