State Politics

Republican legislators tweak new campaign funds

Republican lawmakers continue to add to legislation originally just intended to move up the presidential primary election. The most recent addition would allow the governor to control a Council of State campaign fund.

Last week, state senators tacked on a barely-vetted provision to allow legislative caucuses to create fundraising committees that act like political parties, accepting and distributing unlimited donations for campaigns.

The House Rules committee Tuesday added an amendment to allow the Council of State to do the same. It also clarified the language specify that funds could only be spent on individuals seeking office in that branch of government (House, Senate or Council of State).

House Republicans pushed back last week, saying they were being ambushed with a provision they had never seen right at the end of session. Because the primary date needs to be set no later than Wednesday, a few said they felt “backed into a corner” by the Senate.

Politically active groups in North Carolina were calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to veto the bill, claiming it was the most “shocking” piece of legislation yet.

The plan expands “pay-to-play” politics in North Carolina, according to Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a campaign watchdog group. He called the accounts slush funds.

The proposal popped up at a time of apparent strain between Republicans in power and the state party apparatus, as many of the leading elected Republicans didn’t back the newly elected party chairman Hasan Harnett.

The state party blitzed its members with an email calling the provision a “surprise ‘poison pill’” aimed to make state political parties irrelevant.

Harnett told supporters Friday that he was at the legislative building earlier that day “dealing with all this headache of things that are being created, perhaps, because we have a grassroots leader in office.”

He heeded the group with a biblical warning to be “like watchmen or watch-women, we need to be watching not just in the day time but in nighttime. Because that’s when the thieves come in to rob, steal and kill.”

Tuesday, however, both legislative and state party Republican leadership showed a bit of solidarity by holding an a impromptu press conference to express their support of one another.

“The grassroots have been listened to and together we made the necessary changes to Senate Bill 373,” Harnett said. “Today we have a unified party, and we are looking forward to working with the House and Senate.”

House Speaker Tim Moore said the worries about the bill “were shown to be unfounded.”

“What we are looking for on the caucus side is just another tool that can be used for the campaigns but at the same time work very closely with our party,” Moore said. “We certainly do support our state party.”

Newly selected NCGOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse also stood in unity with the group, which included Senate leader Phil Berger.

“Nothing is going to be any different whatsoever than it has been in the past,” Woodhouse said. “We understand in the changing complexities of campaign finance that having every tool possible to win is our job to have our Republican candidates win.”

North Carolina Democratic Party put out a statement Tuesday saying the NCGOP is now “split into four separate, legally independent campaign committees, making the clear divisions seen in recent weeks official under state law.”

“Last week we learned that legislative Republicans didn’t trust their state party to house their campaign arms,” said NCDP Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds. “Tonight we learned that Gov. McCrory wants out too. Such a drastic move heading into a major election year would no doubt weaken campaigns up and down the ballot – so we still don’t anticipate any similar changes at NCDP.”