SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Worn-Out Campaign Refrains
Conservative critics of efforts to reform campaign finance laws must surely be fans of those dinosaur rock radio stations that dominate the FM airwaves.
But really, how many times can you hear Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" before you actually turn the page?
In this case, the same old song, played over and over, is the conservative chorus that the solution to the money cancer infecting politics is regulation that removes contribution limits in favor of more disclosure.
Conservatives don't always say what they mean by more disclosure. These days, political candidates in North Carolina file semiannual reports -- showing donors, donations and expenses -- in non-election years and quarterly reports in election years. In the days leading up to an election, candidates must file additional reports.
Sometimes the folks who espouse this no limits/more reporting philosophy will talk about how modern technology should allow for near-instantaneous reporting of donations. Not explained: how that system might work in an era when big-money campaigns farm out reporting duties to independent contractors and everybody else barely has the know-how to sign their names on the correct line.
Absent more reporting, it's not altogether clear that such a system doesn't already exist in North Carolina.
At least, that's the impression that I took away from listening to the recent State Board of Elections hearing into the campaign finances of former Gov. Mike Easley.
The highlights included testimony about $50,000 and $10,000 checks written to the state Democratic Party by developers Gary Allen and Lanny Wilson. Had they wanted, the checks could have been $10 million. State law puts no limits on contributions to the political parties.
The donations, regardless of whether any line-by-line accounting occurred, largely benefited Easley's campaign.
The $4,000 individual contribution limit in North Carolina -- a limit whose purpose is to prevent influence peddling and keep people on relatively equal terms when it comes to political influence -- became null and void.
In the days since the Easley hearing began, there's been a lot of commentary about what it all means. Former Democratic political consultant Gary Pearce, on his blog, "Talking About Politics," quoted a rhyme:
The thunder roared, the lightning flashed, a tree was felled -- and a frog was smashed.
More than frogs get smashed, though. You just rarely hear their stories. The newspapers and TV cameras focus on the politicians, and every so often on the money guys like Wilson.
The smashed include the struggling business entrepreneur without the money to grease the skids, the worker minus the connections to land the state job, the land owner who can't get the development permit.
That's not to suggest that government only works for those handing out $50,000 checks. It certainly works better for them.
In Wisconsin, no donor can contribute more than $10,000 a year to any and all state candidates, committees and parties, a financing regime upheld by the federal courts. North Carolina needs similar reforms.
It beats another tired verse of "Take It to the Limit."
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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