UPDATED: A fundraising invite for House Speaker Thom Tillis sent earlier this month announced a special "appreciation" event for the special interest political committees that lobby at the statehouse. The cost: $4,000, the maximum contribution.
It underlines Republican legislative leaders huge reliance on PACs for campaign money. According to a Democracy North Carolina report released Thursday, GOP leaders Tillis and Phil Berger raised more money from the special interest groups than their Democratic predecessors.
About 36 percent of Tillis' $946,000 raised so far this election cycle came from PACs. For Berger, the Senate leader, PACs contributed one-third of his $974,000, according to the advocacy group, which supports public campaign financing. In their last term in power, Democratic House and Senate leaders raised no more than one-quarter of their money from PACs, the report said.
Before the GOP leaders took the helm, they raised roughly half as much PAC money at this point, an indication that campaign cash flows the same direction as power. At the same time, PAC money constituted a larger share of their coffer in the previous election cycles when fewer individual donors were willing to give them money.
Tillis's invite for the PAC event landed the mailbox of a lobbyist -- who is banned by law from contributing. (The solicitation itself is not illegal; Democrats recently sent a fundraising invite to a lobbyist, too.) A disclaimer in the Tillis email solicitation said the committee isn't seeking contributions from lobbyists but provided the invite "simply to inform (them) and request that (they) pass the information along to any interested parties and recommend support where appropriate." See full invite below.
Bob Hall at Democracy North Carolina said fact Tillis sent the solicitation to at least one lobbyist represents "the arrogance of power that can lead to corrupt deal-making."
“This is a shakedown, plain and ugly, and it’s apparently working,” Hall said in a statement. “Lobbyists and groups with issues in the General Assembly are being pressured to pony up money to the head man. It’s the textbook definition of pay-to-play politics. It’s corrupting and it sends us backwards to the sad era of Jim Black.”
Black's fundraising triggered criminal investigations because he didn't report contributions -- which later led to a prison term that prompted a rewrite of campaign finance laws five years ago to ban lobbyist contributions and bundling for state lawmakers. Black, by comparison, reported raising about 27 percent of his money in the 2002 cycle from PACs.
Jordan Shaw, Tillis' spokesman, said invoking Black in relation to the current speaker is not fair because the email fundraising invite was legal, unlike Black's actions. "It's insane to even bring him up," Shaw said. "It seriously undermines (Hall's) credibility."
Shaw also noted that Democracy North Carolina was the subject of an IRS complaint filed by the N.C. Republican Party concerning its nonprofit status.