News-Star: Opinion

Four signs of big-money influence in N.C. politics

It never ceases to amaze how much money pours into campaign coffers in North Carolina and how big a role cash plays in our election system.

As November approaches, campaigns raising significant gobs of cash are exclaiming their hauls across the state and asking for more. At the same time, many voters know little about the candidates aside from what they see and hear from advertisements they get from television, radio, newspapers and in their mailboxes. Much of that information is misleading, if not false, but that’s what campaign cash pays for.

And instead of talking to and meeting with voters to explain why they’re running and what they have to offer, many candidates spend much of their time at private fundraisers with campaign donors who would vote for them anyway. Outside groups with little connection to North Carolina – and even less connection to the state’s voters – also spend megabucks trying to get certain candidates elected in this state.

With that in mind, here are four signs that campaign cash plays an oversized role in our democracy in North Carolina. There are many others.

▪  $1 million! That was the headline of a recent campaign email from Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat. He wrote to supporters to urge them to give $20.16 each to help him reach the $1 million mark in contributions this election cycle, saying he would be the first insurance commissioner candidate in state history to reach that mark. He was about $3,500 short at the time. Insurance commissioner is an important job, but my guess is that most everyday folks couldn’t name our current commissioner or pick his photograph out of a lineup. Goodwin’s opponent in November is Republican Mike Causey. He had raised less than $34,000 and had $15,000 on hand as of June 30, according to campaign reports filed with the State Board of Elections. You won’t see much of Causey on TV this fall.

▪  The father of Democratic attorney general candidate Josh Stein contributed $500,000 to the state Democratic Party in March, according to reports filed with the State Board. Under state law, that’s perfectly legal provided that Adam Stein didn’t attach any strings to that money when he donated it. Neither Stein returned my calls seeking comment. It would be interesting to see how much the Democratic Party spends on Josh Stein’s race against state Sen. Buck Newton, the Republican candidate for attorney general.

▪  The Washington, D.C.-based Republican Attorneys General Association has reserved $3.8 million worth of television advertising to support Newton for attorney general in the five weeks before the election. It’s the largest reserve in RAGA’s history, the group said.

“RAGA is on the offense in 2016, and we are committed to expanding our already strong majority of Republican attorneys general, with North Carolina being a prime pick-up opportunity,” said RAGA Executive Director Scott Will.

Clearly.

▪  And in no other race in the state is the amount of money flowing into North Carolina more apparent than the governor’s race between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper. Through June 30, Cooper had raised $12.7 million and McCrory’s campaign had brought in $8.7 million, for a combined total of more than $21.4 million. To put that in perspective, that’s $5 raised for every person who voted in North Carolina’s 2012 gubernatorial election, and it’s not even close to November.

You won’t have to look for Cooper and McCrory on television.

You won’t be able to avoid them.

Patrick Gannon is the columnist for the Capitol Press Association. Reach him at pgannon@ncinsider.com.

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