Raleigh, N.C. — Although state lawmakers are officially in recess until August, some are still negotiating bills to vote on when they come back, and the interim could prove to be a very profitable break for them.
North Carolina law prohibits legislators from accepting campaign donations while they are in session from the people and groups that employ lobbyists to influence them.
"This has been the law for a number of years, and it rightly put bright lines to say, while they're in session, your money can't be used to try to influence a decision," said Bob Phillips, executive director of good-government group Common Cause North Carolina.
But because the General Assembly is out of session for more than 10 days, that ban is not in effect right now, meaning they can take checks from groups and industries that might be affected by some of the legislation still pending.
House and Senate members are crafting new versions of a dozen bills, including changes to environmental regulations, taxes, business regulations and state administrative procedures.
"In our view, it would be inappropriate for money to be contributed to lawmakers at this time," Phillips said. "No lawmaker will ever say that money influences them to make a decision. Of course, it doesn't, but it does provide access, and there's an appearance, too, that it does indeed influence them. We understand folks have to have money for their campaigns, but clearly, you don't want any of that happening while they are doing the people's business."
State campaign finance laws also mean that lawmakers don't have to disclose until next January whether they took donations this month from interested groups.
Republican legislative leaders have scheduled sessions in August, September and November. The last time they held such boomerang sessions was in 2011, when the Democrat Gov. Bev Perdue was in office, but they have left themselves more leeway this time on what they can vote on during those sessions.
Phillips said that, if lawmakers are planning to hold multiple sessions in future years, they might want to close the campaign finance loophole.
"As much as we can, having clearer, brighter lines that have restrictions that everybody can understand is what we need," he said.
State GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse contended that the term "loophole" is misleading because older laws allowed contributions at any time. He said lawmakers never considered banning fundraising between legislative sessions because some business always carries over, no matter how long or short the gap between sessions is.