Senate and House Democrats are scheduled to hold pre-session fundraisers tomorrow night and Wednesday morning at the state party headquarters in Raleigh. Both are likely to be far quieter affairs than a similar GOP event last month.
Under state law, legislators can’t take PAC money (which is generally directed by lobbyists) during session. The aim of that law is to avoid the undue influence (or the appearance of it) of large campaign contributors on the legislative process.
But because the legislature is officially out of session at this time, lawmakers can accept PAC checks of up to $4000, right up until the special session gavels in at noon on Wednesday.
On June 29th, House Republicans held a fundraiser at 18 Seaboard in Raleigh. The event, which was well-attended by lawmakers and lobbyists alike, was legal. But government reform advocates argued it violated the spirit of the law because legislators would soon reconvene to vote on redistricting maps, veto overrides, and other matters.
At the GOP fundraiser, a coalition of groups – the AFL-CIO and good-government advocacy group Democracy NC, among others – gathered with signs and banners and chants, protesting “pay-to-play politics” and denouncing “government for sale.”
Are those groups similarly concerned about the upcoming Democratic fundraisers?
“I’d say we’re a firm believer that there needs to be campaign finance reform,” said the AFL-CIO’s MaryBe McMillan. “I don’t believe there should be pay-to-play for either party, and we don’t believe either party should be holding fundraisers in what is really just a short break between sessions.”
But McMillan said her group isn’t planning a similar protest at the Dems’ events.
“From our perspective, the picket was also largely about Republican policies they had passed, unrelated to campaign finance,” McMillan said, citing the unemployment benefits standoff, a corporate tax loophole, service cuts, and public sector job losses. “Our protest was really about Republicans’ attacks on working families and workers.”
Democracy NC’s director Bob Hall also doesn’t plan to be present. When I asked why, he pointed me to the following passage from his group’s earlier press release:
“I don’t fault the individual legislator for taking advantage of opportunities to raise funds,” said Hall. “They’re trapped in a corrupting system that pushes them to fixate on raising money. What bothers me is when they don’t try to change the system or they promise they will but then just make it worse.”
“So it’s not just any fundraiser by any legislator that drew our criticism,” Hall said in an email.
Hall said the AFL-CIO was the primary organizer of the earlier protest. “We didn’t initiate the demonstration at the House GOP event. We got an email notice about the picket and on Monday circulated it to others and several Dem-NCers showed up, too,” Hall said. “It’s not like we’re cruising around looking for fundraisers to protest.”
But, he added, that could change. “You can bet if Democratic legislators regain majority power, promise serious reforms, and then don’t deliver and instead pass a bill like the interest rake hike for commercial lender/donors, well, we’ll definitely be in their face, too,” said Hall.
House Republican Caucus political director Scott Laster isn’t surprised the Dems will get a pass.
“The fact that both Democracy NC and AFL-CIO of North Carolina do not plan on protesting the Democrats’ events merely highlights their partisan agenda more than anything else. The hypocrisy of protesting Republicans but not Democrats should discredit their reputation as “non-partisan” organizations,” Laster responded via email.
“Heck, I would not be surprised if you find one or both groups attending the event as participants,” Laster added. “This should demonstrate that these “non-partisan” organizations are nothing but extensions of the Democratic Party.”
Protests or not, I’ll be at both Dem events, doing my best to see who shows up for them.