Closing Up a Campaign Loophole
They may not get much traction, but a bipartisan group of legislators — most of them Republicans — have introduced a bill to close off a campaign-giving loophole that has been front and center during recent political scandals in North Carolina.
The loophole allows the state’s political parties to accept unlimited contributions and then push any amount of money into legislative swing districts, or wherever else party bigwigs want it. It essentially makes a mockery of the $4,000 contribution limit.
The legislation filed this week would subject campaign committees and political parties to the same $4,000 contribution limit as individuals.
“That just puts the legislative leadership and people over here on par with everybody else,” said state Rep. John Blust, a Guilford County Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors.
Not all legislators are likely to see it that way. The ability to raise campaign money, and then spread that money around, is a major part of becoming a powerful legislator. Typically, legislators who excel at the fundraising game rise to the most powerful positions in the state House and Senate.
Closing the loophole would change the rules of the game. Of course, other rules have already changed. Independent groups not directly tied to campaigns or political parties increasingly spend large sums trying to influence elections.
Court decisions that have gutted restrictions on corporate money moving into the fray mean that independent expenditure groups will enjoy even more influence in the future. Former House Speaker Joe Hackney, now the chamber’s minority leader, believes closing the loophole will give those groups and the wealthy individuals who fund them more influence, at the expense of the political parties.
He may be right.
But more money would also flow directly to candidates, and those rank-and-file legislators wouldn’t be as beholden to legislative leaders.
More importantly, a corrupting influence in political campaigns would be gone.
Both the scandal that sent former House Speaker Jim Black to prison and that which led to a criminal conviction for former Gov. Mike Easley involved the ability to funnel large sums of campaign money through the political parties.
When the rules are that wide open, it becomes easy enough to believe that no rules affecting the big money moving around campaigns really matter.
The question raised by Hackney’s criticism is whether the power of legislative leaders — who are elected, after all — would be replaced by that of largely unseen and un-elected funders of the independent campaigns.
Some political watchers would say that influence is already there, and that only the courts or some new kind of corruption scandal (which will surely come) will change it.
But elected officeholders should always be worried about the concentration of political power, and work against it, no matter the form or means.
One means in North Carolina has been the ability to move large sums of money through political parties.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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