Campaign Reporting Falls Short
When critics say that there is too much money in politics, politicians often respond that the problem is inadequate disclosure of the source of the money.
And when the critics complain about lack of disclosure, the politicians say … Well, they don’t say much.
Right now, a group called the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform wants more updates on who is giving to whom in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Jane Pinsky, the coalition’s director, says the current campaign finance reporting schedule is inadequate, that it doesn’t allow North Carolinians to see who is trying to curry favor with legislators in the lead-up to the legislative session.
State law doesn’t allow legislators to take contributions from the executives of businesses that employ lobbyists, or their political action committees, during the legislative session. The reason behind the law is rather obvious: At some point, policymakers decided that it might not look so good for a legislator to be taking a donation from Executive X on one day and voting for a bill that favors his or her company on the next.
The prohibition, though, typically produces a flurry of donations leading up to the start of the legislative session in late January, even though another general election is 22 months away.
A recent report from Democracy North Carolina showed political action committees gave state legislators more than $240,000 from November’s election though the end of the year. Almost all the money went to Republicans. It seems the folks looking for influence needed to make up some ground with the new party in power.
The state’s campaign finance reporting schedule requires that donations made during that time period be disclosed in mid-January. What won’t be disclosed until July 29 are any of the donations that occurred during the first three weeks of January, when pre-legislative session fundraisers reach their peak.
Of course, by late July, legislators hope to be out of Dodge, or Raleigh, as the case may be. So, anyone trying to draw any connections between donation and legislative action will be left to reconstruct something easily dismissed as long-gone history.
The problems with the state’s campaign finance reporting schedule aren’t confined to the current reporting period.
As general elections near, North Carolinians get a look at 4 1/2 month’s worth of donations just eight or 10 days before casting their vote. Donations from July through mid-October are only reported during the final week of October. By then, most voters have already made up their minds.
But that is how the politicians — Democrats and Republicans — like it.
Neither House Speaker Thom Tillis nor Senate leader Phil Berger seem in too much of a hurry to respond to the criticism about the reporting schedule. Berger did say he’s willing to look into quarterly reporting in election and non-election years. A more comprehensive look at all of the flaws in the reporting system and schedule is probably in order.
But not if you prefer keeping the influence game from public view.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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