Protestors plague GOP fundraiser

About four dozen sweaty but loud protestors gathered this afternoon to protest a House Republican fundraiser at a Raleigh restaurant.

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Laura Leslie

About four dozen protestors gathered in the late-afternoon heat today to protest the House Republican fundraiser at 18 Seaboard tonight.

Across the street, at the restaurant, a steady stream of cars pulled into the parking lot at about 5:45. Three Raleigh police officers stood watch, but the protest was peaceful – though loud.

Protestors from groups including the AFL-CIO, TogetherNC, and Democracy NC chanted as cars drove by. “Buy a seat, sell your soul,” they shouted. “House for sale: what am I bid?”

As a BMW followed a Lexus and a Mercedes into the parking lot, one protestor groused, “At least they could’ve bought American.” Another shouted, "Hey, Tillis, where's my 27 percent raise?" 

Protestor Bo Chagnon passed around a faux fundraiser menu that included “Hubris Sorbet,” “Peasant Under Glass,” “Creamed Chipped Middle Class,” and “Marie Antoinette Cake.” He said he wasn’t representing any particular political group. “I’m just here,” Chagnon said. “This is a movement.”

The attention was clearly unwelcome. Many lobbyists and lawmakers ducked their heads as protestors shouted from across the street. “Turn around!” the protestors yelled at arriving guests. “How much did you pay?,” they shouted at those leaving.

It didn’t seem to hurt attendance much, though. Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, was there, along with Rep. Leo Daughtry, R- Johnston. And whether or not Reps. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, and Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, were there, their cars certainly were, tagged with NC House license plates.

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, came over to chat on his way into the building. “I’ve never been protested before,” he confided. “This is great!”

Lobbyists aren’t allowed by state law to make political donations to lawmakers, but their employers are as long as the session is adjourned for at least ten days. Quite a few high-powered lobbyists must have had their tickets bought for them. I spotted Theresa Kostrzewa, Tim Kent, Fred Bone, Joe McClees, his wife Henri McClees, and Johnny Tillett headed into the shindig. To see who they lobby for, click on their names.

Another lobbyist, Ardis Watkins with the State Employees’ Association, tucked in a crisp white blouse as she hurried into the fundraiser, avoiding SEANC’s organized labor brethren sweating in t-shirts across the street.

Others I didn’t recognize went in and out.  I watched one flip off protestors as he drove away in a gold Toyota SUV.

Kostrzewa, too, seemed upset about the situation. “I can’t believe you’re covering this,” she said to me in the parking lot. “It must be a slow news day.”

She pointed at the protestors across the street: “Are you going to ask them if they’re going to picket the Dem fundraiser?,” she asked.

Fundraisers like this are nothing new, though under state law, legislators usually have to hold them before or after session. But because of the way GOP leaders have set up special sessions, lawmakers this year have at least one (and probably two) opportunities to shake down special interest groups for money while votes that affect them are on the table.

NC Senate Democrats are holding a fundraiser of their own July 12th, at the party headquarters on Hillsborough.  I asked Democracy NC’s Adam Sotak if they would picket that, too. He didn’t say no, but he didn’t say yes, either.

“We’re protesting a system that currently is broken as far as campaign finances go. I think it’s unfortunate if Democrats take advantage of this loophole just like the Republicans are doing,” Sotak said. “We’re basically telling the politicians, ‘Get off this fundraising treadmill. Let’s try an alternative way here in North Carolina.’”

Sotak says he’s holding the GOP to the standard they set with their campaign promises. “They came into this session talking about it being a new day -- you know, we’re gonna try to do something about this so-called corruption, this pay-to-play,” he said. “We’re not seeing anything different. If they came here to just uphold the status quo and do business as usual, they’re doing a great job.”

Watch Sotak’s comments at right. (And sorry about the shakycam - I took this on my iPhone, sans tripod.)

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