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Speaker Black Proposes Campaign Finance Reforms

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black, under intense scrutiny for campaign finance practices, on Monday proposed a list of reforms, including one that he was closely questioned about -- writing donation checks with the payee line left blank.

Black also said state law should be changed to require disclosure for campaign donations as low as $50. The current threshold for reporting is $100.

Another proposal would ban lobbyists from holding jobs in legislative or executive branch campaigns.

"I believe that we must take steps to ensure greater access and transparency in our daily activities at the General Assembly," Black said in a letter to the House Ethics and Governmental Reform Committee.

Black created the committee, which is expected to recommend legislation to the Legislature in May. The Legislature's budget process also must be made more understandable to outsiders, he said.

Bob Hall, the research director of Democracy North Carolina, said Black's letter was a positive step. Hall's campaign finance reform group filed the complaint that led to elections board hearing.

"It's important for him to use the bully pulpit that he has to say the system needs to change."

Earlier this month, members of the North Carolina State Optometric Society Political Action Committee told the State Board of Elections about writing checks with the payee line blank so they could be passed out to candidates.

An investigators of the board testified that the society's PAC may have broken state law because the blank payee checks resulted in $14,000 in donations in the name of individuals.

Jim Black said he completed at least three blank-payee checks worth $4,200 for then-Rep. Michael Decker of Forsyth County.

The week after the state board hearings, about a dozen optometrists came to the federal courthouse in Raleigh on the day a grand jury convened.

Authorities haven't charged Black or others with wrongdoing and Black told the elections board he thought the blank-payee checks were legal.

"Personally, I have taken full responsibility for my mistakes in judgment and I have since rectified these problems and will continue my efforts to be the best possible representative and Speaker," Black said in his letter.

Other recommendations outlined in the letter include:

  • Giving the State Ethics Board enforcement power.
  • Considering whether lobbying reform laws due to take effect in 2007 can become effective earlier.
  • Banning personal contributions from lobbyists and keeping them from organizing or hosting political fundraisers.
  • Requiring more economic disclosure by legislators and restricting how unspent campaign donations can be used.
  • Making legislators and their staff take ethics training every two years.
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