Our state legislature is drenched in corporate PAC dollars — and it threatens to subvert our democracy
Money in politics is as American as apple pie – or, perhaps, as North Carolina as pulled pork and cheerwine. A wave of money is crashing over the bank accounts of North Carolina’s legislative candidates this year – well over $2 million just as of mid-February. Right now, North Carolina’s corporate PAC network is mobilizing to protect the newly vulnerable Republican legislative majority this fall. Enormous sums are pouring into low-profile legislative races in ways that threaten to distort our elections, and most North Carolina voters remain totally unaware.
Our state’s political system, like most, is drenched in corporate money. This money is a large part of how many political candidates pay the costs of running for office. For a surprising number, it can even be a majority of their campaign’s financing. This is true of both parties, but not equally. By our count of the 31 largest PACs in the state, fully 69% of corporate PAC contributions – nearly $1.5 million in all – have gone to Republican candidates. That includes 80% of contributions from Duke Energy, the single largest corporate donor, as well as 68% from the Farm Bureau, 71% from Blue Cross Blue Shield, and 78% from the North Carolina Home Builders.
Fully 69% of corporate PAC contributions in North Carolina go to protecting the Republican majority.
We’ve compiled all of this data into one big, public Google Sheet. We invite you to go look for yourself: bit.ly/3c9GGKw
To understand this environment, you must understand that the current era of the General Assembly is an explicit pay-to-play system. To have a seat at the table when important legislation is at stake, or to get meetings with policymakers, you must pay the Republican majority’s leaders—that is, Phil Berger and Tim Moore — often followed by certain senior members. This is the deal universally understood by absolutely everyone in the business, and it’s essentially designed to enable the corruption. And for friends of the majority, the post-2011 era has indeed been good. The Republican majority has made slashing corporate taxes its very highest priority, even holding our public schools hostage for more. Duke Energy is allowed to pass on the costs for its coal ash negligence to consumers. Examples abound.
Corporate PACs contribute to candidates’ campaigns in order to advance their business interests in the legislature – and they protect their investments. Right now, many of them are getting deeply spooked at the Republican majority’s increasing vulnerability this fall, and have begun giving very heavily to a group of fairly obscure candidates.
For example: take Perrin Jones and Kristin Baker. Both are appointed stand-ins for House members who vacated their seats (House districts 9 and 82, respectively), and mostly unknown. But their seats are critical for Republicans to defend this fall and both are facing strong Democratic challengers. This helps explain why, despite zero influence in the legislature, Jones has raised almost $100,000 in corporate PAC contributions – 55% of his total funds. Baker has raised $74,500, representing 67% of her total. That’s 1,000% and 700% more, respectively, than the average Republican House member. The wagons are circling.
Why do you think minor, low-profile Republican candidates are raising such a gigantic amount of corporate PAC cash?
Or there’s Joyce Krawiec, a state Senator in District 31. Despite having few accomplishments and little seniority, Krawiec’s seat is a critical one for Republicans to defend – and she, too, is facing her strongest Democratic challenger ever. The PAC network has noticed. Krawiec has raised $48,700 – nearly 75% of all her funds – from corporate PACs. (In case you’re wondering, the comparable figure for her opponent, Terri LeGrand, is <5%.)
This list could go on and on. Money does not buy elections, but it sure does help influence them. Will corporate PACs succeed in protecting the Republican majority this fall? Only voters will get to decide that.
The Long Leaf Pine Slate is dedicated to breaking the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly. Learn more about us at LongLeafPineslate.org and follow us on Twitter at @ForwardCarolina.
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