Speaker Tillis raises doubts as he raises money

July 5, 2013 

Never has there been a politician who has drawn breath who has not at some point publicly worried about how much money it takes to seek office. And when special interests flood the war chests of candidates, never has there been a candidate has not been emphatic in saying, “But just because someone gives my campaign money doesn’t mean I will do them any favors, or that they expect any favors, and I am outraged by the implication that I can be influenced. Outraged, I tell you!”

And never has there been a member of the public who has believed any of it.

The fact that statewide campaigns in North Carolina run in the many millions of dollars is distressing on its face. It speaks to a system...not an individual perhaps, but a system...for sale.

But it’s all the worse when a candidate such as House Speaker Thom Tillis, who has life and death power over each and every piece of proposed legislation that comes through his chamber, is raising millions of dollars for his U.S. Senate campaign while the legislature is in session and while special interest groups from the financial industry for one example, are pushing legislation to help themselves.

Tillis is prohibited by state law from raising campaign money from lobbyists or from concerns with lobbyists while the legislature’s in session. But there is no such ban on candidates for federal office, which with his campaign against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, Tillis is.

So the big money train is rolling. Tillis had three big-money fund-raisers in one week recently. Bankers are among his big boosters. He’s also got a Super PAC, a political action committee getting money that’s not even subject to donation limits.

Do Democrats play the same game? Of course they do. Hagan and Tillis will likely raise over $10 million apiece for the Senate campaign, and they’ll both get it from all sorts of special interest groups.

The speaker believes not for one minute that his contributors for the Senate campaign have no interest in active legislation in the legislature, that they’re interested only in seeing him in the U.S. Senate. He is not that naive.

And he doubtless believes he’s well within the rules and that this fund-raising drive is simply the way the game is played. In that, he’s right. Thanks to far-too-lax federal campaign finance laws and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, special interest contributors can pour millions of dollars all over Tillis, and they will. They believe that if they give big, a senator or congressman will be happy to listen to them when a bill of interest comes up.

Were Tillis just a legislator, the issue would be troubling, but not as troubling. He’s not just a legislator. His contributors know that when a bill, any bill, comes to the House, Thom Tillis becomes the man to see. Campaign contributions have a way of cracking open the door.

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