Morgan Drops Suit With State
Former state Rep. Richard Morgan has dropped his suit against the State Board of Elections.
The suit had alleged that some of Morgan's political enemies violated state campaign finance laws.
Morgan's attorney, Mi-chael L. Weisel of Ra-leigh, filed the voluntary dismissal Jan. 31 in Wake County Superior Court.
The notice cites a pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the Federal Election Commission vs. Wisconsin Right to Life that addresses issues similar to those raised in Morgan's suit.
Morgan, a former speaker of the state House of Represent-atives, first petitioned the State Board of Elections in April with a complaint against the Republican Legislative Majority (RLM), several political committees, Variety Wholesale Inc. and Variety Stores Inc., alleging that they illegally used corporate contributions in a campaign to defeat him and some of his political allies.
The State Board later denied the petition. Morgan's next step was an appeal to Wake County Superior Court.
In a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Weisel said that the Supreme Court on Jan. 19 agreed to hear two cases "dealing with the very issues we raised in our petition." The Pilot was unable to reach Morgan for comment.
Weisel said that he and Morgan agreed that it would not be "prudent to expend taxpayer dollars and his own dollars to prepare an appeal when the law of the land will be determined by the Supreme Court decision."
The two issues before the Supreme Court are use of corporate or union money for campaign purposes and the context of advertisements or other language used in a campaign.
"The issues in our petition are the issues being decided by the Supreme Court," said Weisel, who said that in no way is the notice of dismissal a signal that he or Morgan is backing down from the contentions in the original petition to the State Board of Elections or the appeal to Superior Court.
Weisel said the Supreme Court is to hear arguments in the Wisconsin case April 25 and is expected to deliver a ruling by July. He said the Supreme Court's willingness to hear the Wisconsin case supports his belief, and that of Morgan, that the issues raised in their case are valid and are not frivolous.
'Issue Advocacy' Questioned
The case to be heard by the Supreme Court represents the first time the nation's highest court has reviewed the McCain-Feingold law since 2004, when the law was first ruled to be constitutional. However, it was a split ruling, 5-4, and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has since retired. Her successor is Justice Samuel Alito.
The primary issue behind the case before the Supreme Court is the question of "issue advocacy" advertising paid for by nonprofit groups promoting an issue rather than a specific candidate. The question this time is whether such advertising can mention candidates by name. In January a federal court overruled that provision.
The act passed in 2002 was named for its key sponsors, Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Sen. Russell Fein-gold, Democrat of Wisconsin.
The notice of dismissal on behalf of Morgan says that: "The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on statutory provisions (also embodied in North Carolina statutes) prohibiting 'electioneering communications' directly funded by corporations and unions during a blackout period before primary and general elections. The Court is also expected to rule on whether language and context of an `issue' advertisement should be considered in evaluating the purpose of the advertisement."
The dismissal notice says that the Supreme Court decision is expected to determine the interpretation and applicability of North Carolina law at issue in the petition.
"Consequently, Richard T. Morgan (petitioner) believes the best interests of justice and fiscal responsibility to North Carolina taxpayers are best served by the Supreme Court's determination of these legal issues," the notice of dismissal says.
Complex issues raised in the original petition, 24 pages in length, center on such things as whether contributions were illegally used to support certain candidates and oppose other candidates by a committee authorized only to use such funds to promote issues, rather than individual candidates.
The initial petition raised such issues as legal prohibition against contributions by corporations to candidates or committees supporting or opposing "a clearly identified candidate." The petition says that Variety Stores and Variety Wholesale "reportedly contributed over $460,000 to other corporate entities for implementing its 2004 strategic campaign plan." That was the year Peggy Crutchfield opposed Morgan in a GOP primary. Morgan won the race.
The court suit, following the arguments of the petition, complained that the RLM accepted contributions from a private corporation and, in turn, used funds to launch campaigns against Morgan and other legislators while cloaking these actions "behind non-reporting state corporate entities, a networked group of corporations, corporate officers, North Carolina State Republican Party officials and employees, campaign consultants and a common set of commercial vendor mail houses and advertising firms."
The petition went on to say that each of these entities "delivers one part of a sophisticated attack communication to a carefully targeted electorate, in order to implement a strategic coordinated campaign plan."
Art Pope, a former state House member and archenemy of Morgan, is president of Variety Stores Inc. and vice president of Variety Wholesale Inc.
State Rep. John Blust, another foe of Morgan, was listed as the registered agent for RLM, which shares the post office box number and street address with Blust, an attorney.
The petition charged that "the true purpose of this strategic campaign plan is to hide the sole source of corporate funding."
Among the committees receiving RLM funding in 2006 was Boylan for N.C. House. Joe Boylan of Pinehurst defeated Morgan in the Republican primary last May and now holds the seat formerly occupied by Morgan.
But Boylan was not the only recipient of RLM funding, according to the original petition. The petition mentions campaign committees for Tommy Pollard, Marilyn Avila, Willie Ray Starling, and Frank Mitchell, who were seeking seats held by incumbents who are allies of Morgan.
In addition to Morgan, victims targeted in the campaign included incumbents Rick L. Eddins, Robert Grady, Julia Howard, and Stephen LaRoque.
Pope said Tuesday that the Supreme Court case has no bearing on Morgan's complaint.
"That's just an excuse," he said.
Pope said that the Supreme Court decision concerns only broadcast communication. Pope said that the decision has to do with campaign contributions that Morgan converted to personal use, which was legal at the time, claiming that he needed the money for legal fees.
"I think he dropped it because his legal counsel, Mike Weisel, is no longer being paid by the General Assembly, which was authorized by Jim Black," Pope said. "He does not want to spend the campaign contributions he converted to personal use. He, in fact, wants to keep that money for himself rather than spend it on a lawsuit that has no merit."
Morgan, who had served in the state House since 1991, is a businessman and farmer whose home is in Eagle Springs. His office is in Pinehurst.
In addition to service as co-speaker and most recently as speaker pro tem, Morgan has chaired the Rules Committee and served as Republican Party leader in the House.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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