To hear the Republicans tell it, at least the way they told it back in those bad old days when the Democrats were in power at the General Assembly, those darned Democrats were sort of a combination of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and Willie Sutton when it came to shaking down special interest groups for campaign contributions. By golly, they indicated, if we take over we're not going to have this pay to play business. Nosiree. We are the party of the clean-up.
They're planning to clean up, all right. Tonight, at the popular 18 Seaboard Restaurant, representatives of political action committees and others will be paying $500 to $5,000 to help the House Republican Caucus. A solicitation letter touted the event, "A New Day for North Carolina," and said it would feature House Speaker Thom Tillis, Majority Leader Paul "Skip" Stam and others.
The letter made it clear that the caucus couldn't accept gifts from lobbyists and said (presumably because some lobbyists got the letter) its purpose was "to inform you and request that you pass the information along to any interested parties and recommend support where appropriate." Ah ... you can't give us the gold, but how about a map to the mine?
Lobbyists are prohibited by law from making contributions to legislators, and legislators can accept contributions from political action committees and the agents and sponsors of lobbyists when the legislature is not in session.
Guess what? Thanks to a rush to finish their budget-balancing business, the legislature is not in session! What a coincidence. Of course, lawmakers will return to Raleigh to ponder redistricting of legislative and congressional districts next month.
Which means, of course, that this fund-raiser was slipped right in between sessions, with Republicans having just demonstrated their power and fixing to flex their muscle some more in redrawing districts to reflect last year's census. This exercise in democracy is very impressive to special interest groups who want to, shall we say, sit at the table with those in charge.
No one really expected Republicans, long shut out of power, to pass up their chance to soak special interest groups. Not only have they not gotten into that trough in a while, they've rarely been close enough to see it. And sure, the long-time Democratic powers on Jones Street solicited big money from special interest groups at every opportunity, and those groups enjoyed not just seats at the table but sometimes the right to put their feet on it.
But in criticizing the Democratic way, the abuse of power, the closed process of decision-making, Republicans - notably their 2008 gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory - talked about the Democratic "culture of corruption" and pay-to-play politics. In so doing, they led people to believe that they would be different.
However, says Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, a political watchdog group, "They are already so consumed by the chase for campaign money that they are either clueless or they don't care that this event looks like cashing in on legislation delivered or still pending."
That wouldn't be so hypocritical if Republicans had run on a platform saying, "It's our turn to game the system and sit under special interest groups like they were milk cows giving $100 bills." But they vowed change, presumably why they're calling this event the celebration of a "new day."
Funny, but the political weather looks pretty much the same.