While the state Senate took a few days off earlier this week, Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, took a trip to D.C. to testify before the Senate Judiciary.
McKissick testified Tuesday in support of a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to limit fundraising and spending on election campaigns.
McKissick was invited by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In his opening statement, McKissick cited State Budget Director Art Pope as an example of how extravagant campaign spending can influence elections. McKissick said Pope supplied three-fourths of all outside money in state races in 2010, and that in 2012, Pope and his associates funded candidates in 22 different races, 18 of which were elected.
“He could afford to spend lavishly, and he certainly did,” McKissick said. He then noted that Pope was named state budget director in 2012. “There are winners and losers in every budget, and in the budget he’s produced, it’s undeniable that Mr. Pope won big,” McKissick said.
The senator, who represents Durham and Granville counties, also noted the campaign spending of Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action and other conservative groups. He noted that the legislators those groups helped elect passed “one of the most restrictive anti-voter laws in the country,” cutting the early vote period from 17 days to less than 10 days, taking away early registration for teenagers as well as same-day voter registration and enacting stringent voter identification laws. McKissick said all of these elements made it more difficult for ordinary peoples’ voices to be heard, putting a kibosh on democracy.
Pope denied McKissick’s claims, and said that limiting campaign spending hinders freedom of speech. He also rebuked McKissick’s assertion that his own spending played a deciding role in the 2010 elections.
“Sen. McKissick was badly misinformed, and repeated false statements about the state of North Carolina being bought in the 2010 elections,” Pope said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. He added that Democrats have outspent Republicans for “a hundred years.”
Pope also said North Carolina voters are intelligent enough to vote as they please, without help from big company spending.
Floyd Abrams, an attorney at Cahill Gordon and Reindell, testified in opposition to the resolution after McKissick, arguing that limiting campaign spending violates the First Amendment. He said the amendment would be better described as a limitation to speech about elections, not spending.
“It is deeply, profoundly, obviously undemocratic to limit speech about who to elect for public office,” Abrams said. “It’s not a coincidence that, until today, the First Amendment has never been amended.”
The amendment was introduced in the Senate in June 2013 where it was read and subsequently referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.