Reform? What reform?

This month’s Exile on Jones Street column in the Indy is the result of a long slog through the campaign finance reports of various players in the General Assembly by Democracy North Carolina, myself and others.

During the 2010 election, Tillis and other Republicans used the Jim Black and Meg Scott Phipps scandals to illustrate the need for a clean break from Democratic rule, vowing that once in the majority they would clean up Raleigh. But recently released campaign finance reports paint a much different picture of what happened once the gavel changed hands.

The reports came out in the last week of January and sifting through them was not an easy chore. Not many of the records are in electronic form and there are obvious bits of missing information and, in some cases, misleading information about who is giving.
On the flip side is the legislation that comes either before or after the contributions. The cases cited in the article are just a small sample, but that doesn’t mean they’re not insignificant in themselves. In each case the business interests got law written to accomplish their aims and in each case – consumer loans, municipal wifi, bail bond rules – the people of North Carolina got the short end of the stick.
The system is in dire need of fixing. There were several reforms passed during the last decade that allowed a little clearer view of the world where money and public policy mix. But there seems to be little interest in taking up any further reforms despite promises to the contrary. We are left with an opaque reporting system that stifles feedback. The time that lapses between when money is contributed and when it shows up in a public document is far too long. We shouldn’t have to wait for the finance reports to come in to fully understand why something became law.

Links, reports and more on campaign money and its influence on public policy in North Carolina to follow.