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Morning Memo: New poll gives Hagan the edge; Hillary Clinton bashes NC voter law

U.S. SENATE POLL: Politico is offering a sneak peek at the latest U.S. Senate poll numbers in North Carolina this morning. Public Policy Polling shows Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan with an eight-point edge in hypothetical matchups against Republicans Thom Tillis and Phil Berger. Both legislative leaders, along with other possible candidates, have negative approval ratings with many voters still not sure what to think. The margin of error is 4 percentage points. Look for more numbers from PPP when the poll is released later today.

VOTER ID, ELECTIONS BILL SIGNED: The implications of Gov. Pat McCrory's signature on the elections bill that requires a voter ID at the polls is far-reaching -- and so is the coverage. Get a round up below -- including Hillary Clinton's comments on the bill, a new PPP poll showing it unfavorable and more. Also, a story from Boone shows Republicans taking over local elections boards will likewise mean major changes.

***The Dome Morning Memo continues below. Thanks for reading.***

Common Cause asks Eric Holder to step in to N.C. voting rights controversy

Common Cause on Tuesday called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to seek a court order overturning the voting laws the General Assembly approved last week, and requiring the Justice Department approve future election law changes in advance.

The request follows Holder's announcement on Thursday that his department has filed a federal court challenge to force Texas to obtain advance approval before implementing future changes to its elections laws. Holder said that wouldn't be the end of it -- that nearly two dozen new voting laws passed last year in a dozen states impeded voters from casting ballots.

“The attorney general’s strong response to a new Texas law imposing discriminatory Voter ID requirements has put states on notice that the administration intends to continue enforcing the Voting Rights Act,” said Arn Pearson, Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation. “Mr. Holder needs to back up those words with action in North Carolina as well.”

Pearson said the restrictions North Carolina's legislators approved are just the sort of measures the Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent.

Gov. Pat McCrory has not yet signed the legislation into law.

Common Cause asks N.C. attorney general to investigate ALEC

An advocacy group is asking Attorney General Roy Cooper to investigate the tax status of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that counts House Speaker Thom Tillis as one of its top members.

Common Cause sent the letter Tuesday just weeks after it filed a whistleblower complaint against ALEC with the IRS, saying they are operating as a tax-exempt nonprofit while lobbying state legislatures across the country.

"Common Cause has discovered compelling evidence that ALEC is a corporate lobby masquerading as a charity. ALEC’s compliance with state tax, gift, solicitation and lobbying laws should be reviewed by your office and/or appropriate state regulatory authorities," the letter states.


Common Cause likes the way N.C. votes

After reviewing the election laws and practices of 10 swing states, Common Cause has judged that North Carolina has the greatest number of laws and practices that are helpful to voters and to fair elections, Rob Christensen reports.

“The stakes are high this year with the struggle for power in the state legislature at a tipping point,” said Bob Phillips, director of Common Cause North Carolina. “The rules of the game need to be fair and need to be enforced. Our report shows that North Carolina is doing well in many areas but there is also room for improvement.”

The national Common Cause group looked at election laws and practices in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Ohio as well as North Carolina.

Among other things, Common Cause liked North Carolina's early voting, efforts to work with state agencies to increase voter registration, the lack of state-imposed voter ID laws, laws against voter suppression, and that provisional ballots are counted if cast in the correct county, but the wrong precinct.

On the downside, Common Cause thought the state's voter challenge law was too expansive, that voting rights were not restored to felons until after they had finished parole or probation, and that there is not enough out reach by election officials to Spanish-speaking voters.

Panel to discuss redistricting

The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law will consider redistricting.

The think tank will examine the constitutional and practical implications of Congressional redistricting at a May 7 program.

Former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform director Jane Pinsky will use the program to advocate for a nonpartisan independent redistricting commission.

A panel will include legislative drafting director Gerry Cohen, Southern Coalition for Social Justice director Anita Earls, UNC-Chapel Hill law professor Robert Joyce, Common Cause director Bob Phillips, and attorneys Thomas Farr and Carl Thurman III.

Recent decisions by the North Carolina and U.S. supreme courts have thrown some kinks in redistricting plans.

"A truly independent redistricting commission may be just the answer to provide constitutional districts for the future," said Orr in a statement.

The program will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Raleigh Country Club.

Common Cause to hold banquet

Common Cause will honor two legislators and a cartoonist Saturday.

The North Carolina chapter of the nonpartisan advocacy group will recognize House Minority Leader Paul Stam and Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier for their work on ethics laws and N&O editorial cartoonist Dwane Powell for his work from noon to 2 p.m.

The event will be held at the N.C. State Faculty Club in Raleigh.

Powell, who has drawn for the News & Observer for decades, will be the keynote speaker.

The event costs $15 per person or $25 for a couple. Reservations must be made by the end of the day today at this Web site or by calling 919-836-0027. 

McCrory turns down a bottled water

Pat McCrory turned down a bottled water today.

Speaking at a gubernatorial forum sponsored by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, the Republican gubernatorial candidate said that he could not accept a bottle of water from the group because it has a lobbyist.

Under General Statute 163-278.13C, lobbyists cannot make contributions to political candidates.

"The bad news is I'm not allowed to eat here, or even have a drink of water according to the current legislation, and the last place I want to break the rules is at a seminar on ethics," he said.

McCrory argued that the rule, which was passed as a package of ethics reforms after the Jim Black scandal, was unnecessarily strict and focused on the wrong part of the problem.

As it turned out, McCrory was mistaken. Since legislators had been invited and the meeting was open to the public, it fell under the exemption for educational meetings in G.S. 138a-32(e)(3).

Bob Phillips, head of the N.C. chapter of Common Cause, said that he had given McCrory bad information when he arrived, and the candidate ended up eating a sandwich and having a Coke after the meeting.

Still, coalition director Jane Pinsky said she would be open to amending the law to allow gifts of less than $10, as long as it was reported promptly.

"If I buy him a cup of coffee, there's no reason I couldn't go back to my office, get on the computer and report it," she said.

Correction: It was a bottle of water, not a can of Coke as reported earlier.

Perdue outlines election reform

Beverly Perdue wants to set up an endowment for gubernatorial campaigns.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate proposed creating the Endowment for Positive Gubernatorial Campaigns — a $50 million trust fund that would pay for campaigns that avoid negative ads, address "major issues" and agree to a series of debates.

"The people of North Carolina, like the rest of the nation, are losing trust in the political system," she said in a statement. "The perception of corruption and a 'pay to play' environment has led to the belief that ordinary citizens do not have as much influence in politics as the rich and powerful."

The proposal is based on former state Sen. Wib Gulley's 1995 bill, which was praised by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, and a similar endowment for Congressional campaigns proposed by U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and Vice President Al Gore.

A bipartisan board of 12 individuals appointed by legislative leaders would run the endowment, select the major issues and determine if candidates had qualified with signatures and small donations.

Participating campaigns would not be allowed to use personal wealth or spend additional money on advertising.

Common Cause honors Jones

Walter JonesU.S. Rep. Walter Jones would seem an odd choice to be the keynote speaker to a Common Cause North Carolina luncheon this week.

The Farmville Republican, a longtime favorite of the Christian right, was chosen, in part, because he has a long history of pushing for lobbying and ethics reform, dating back to his days as a Democratic state legislator in Raleigh, according to Bob Phillips, executive director of the state Common Cause, Rob Christensen reports.

Common Cause will honor Kim Westbrook Strach, the lead investigator for the State Board of Elections for her role in uncovering the Jim Black scandals.

Also getting a nod will be Republican state Rep. George Cleveland of Onslow and Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro—this week's ideological odd couple. They will receive the Plott Hound award for sponsoring a bill that would have ended in-state tuition benefits for out-of-state athletes.

The event will be held Saturday, Nov. 17, at noon at the N.C. State University Club in Raleigh.

Picking up the tab

Business picked up the tab for a meeting of alcohol officials.

LB&B Associates, which manages the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board warehouse, and Penn National Insurance, which insures local ABC boards, helped pay for a three-day conference at the posh Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

The benefits to local alcohol board members included free premium drinks, subsidized golf games and tournament prizes.

Bob Phillips, head of Common Cause North Carolina, said the conference was a classic example of why public officials shouldn't accept gifts from people they do business with.

But at least one board members said he would make decisions based on what sells, not what they drank at a mountain resort. (Char-O)

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