A Preview Of Corporate Politicking?
Michael Weisel had a prediction that the five members of the state Board of Elections may not have wanted to hear.
Weisel, a Raleigh lawyer, was representing a Cary real estate agent, Becky Harper, upset that her dues to the North Carolina Association of Realtors, as well as a $50 special assessment, had gone to a political campaign to defeat local referendums to impose land transfer taxes.
"This is the face of politics in North Carolina post-the Citizens United case," Weisel told the board.
Citizens United is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices opened the door to more direct spending on political campaigns by corporations and unions.
Of course, Weisel's prediction is just that. Whether the Realtors' $2.7 million campaign to defeat 20 local referendums becomes some playbook for corporate involvement in political campaigns remains to be seen.
There is a distinct difference between the Realtors' campaign, which was cleared of any wrongdoing, and the object of critics' fears in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
The Realtors targeted voter referendums on a new type of tax. The teeth-gnashing associated with the Citizens United ruling has come about because of the new ability of corporations, independent of political candidate, to raise and spend millions to directly urge voters to defeat or elect those candidates.
Weisel's warning was aimed at how difficult tracking the flow of money could become in a world where the limits just got substantial broader.
Weisel showed how the Realtors' group pushed money to nearly 30 organizations to fight the land transfer taxes. Nearly $1 million went to a group called the North Carolina Homeowners Alliance, which developed television ads and mailers critical of the tax proposals. Other money went to nearly two dozen local referendum committees formed to oppose the proposals.
The local committees filed campaign reports with their local boards of elections, so no central filing with the state took place, meaning the money became harder to track.
Wesiel's point was that disclosure laws will need revamping in the wake of the Supreme Court case if the public is to know who is spending what to elect whom.
State legislators already recognize that large areas of the state's campaign finance law have been rendered unconstitutional by the high court's ruling. They'll be working this spring and summer to revise the law to line it up with the new ruling.
But in the current atmosphere, legislators are essentially playing whack-a-mole. Who knows what campaign laws intended to prevent the secret financing of campaign headquarter burglaries will next be undone by the courts?
The Realtors' campaign would seem to present a bit of a problem for those who argue that more disclosure of campaign spending, rather than limits on it, should be the goal of campaign finance laws.
If a nonprofit trade association can move money around and through 30 organizations, just imagine what a business with the ability to form a dozen or so limited liability companies can do.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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