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Senate GOP raised big cash during legislative session

Senate Republicans out-raised their Democratic counterparts by more than 12 to 1 during the first half of 2013, and GOP senators had four times more cash remaining in their campaign accounts than Democrats as of June 30, an analysis by the Insider's Patrick Gannon shows.

Senate Republicans on average raised nearly $38,000 during the first six months of 2013, a figure boosted by the $475,000 raised by their leader, Sen. Phil Berger of Rockingham County. Democrats raised $5,800 on average, with Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Buncombe County leading that caucus by collecting about $26,600 in donations.

In all, 32 Republicans (fundraising totals for Sen. Dan Soucek weren't available) raised more than $1.2 million. The 17 Senate Democrats brought in $99,000 from Jan. 1 through June 30, according to campaign finance data filed with the State Board of Elections.

The numbers show the sitting GOP lawmakers with a sizable cash advantage early in the election cycle, which isn't unusual as donors typically gravitate to the political party that controls legislation.

Morning Memo: Bill Maher's screed rips North Carolina GOP

BILL MAHER RIPS NORTH CAROLINA A NEW ONE: Comedian and liberal commenter Bill Maher spent five minutes recapping North Carolina's rightward political shift concluding: "North Carolina is going ape $*!# in a way no other state has."

Maher introduces the clip comparing the state to a third world country "where Democracy itself hangs in the balance." He later blames Art Pope for the circumstances and suggested his guest Jay-Z ought to buy the state. See the clip above.

McCRORY WATCH: Gov. Pat McCrory hasn’t signed any bills in a week and there are 38 of them on his desk. Deadline to sign them is a minute before midnight on Sunday, Aug. 25. He signed a spate of legislation July 29.

***The biggest bill on his desk -- read about it below. Along with more North Carolina political news in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: GOP not united on budget; Tillis explains abortion vote

REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO PASS THEIR OWN BUDGET: Ten House Republicans voted against their party's $20.6 billion spending plan, including one of the chief budget writers. GOP leaders held an extra lengthy caucus meeting Tuesday to whip members to vote for the bill but hours before hand lobbyists reported that it looked like it could fail.

The House passed the budget on a 66-52 preliminary vote. … It’s somewhat unusual for the majority party to lose more than a handful of its members’ on a budget vote. It’s even rarer for a budget committee leader to vote against the budget as did Rep. Linda Johnson, a Kannapolis Republican.“I was not pleased with the education budget,” Johnson said. (More below.)

THOM TILLIS SETS HIS ABORTION VOTE STRAIGHT: Every move House Speaker Thom Tillis makes is viewed through the prism of his U.S. Senate campaign in 2014. And for weeks the Republican's rationale for supporting the House's much-debated abortion measure remained quiet. Asked about it Tuesday, Tillis said "it happens to be something that I support and I thought if I didn't, they'd say, 'Why didn't you?' so I thought would solve the question by making it very clear where I stood on the bill." It puts Tillis, who is considered a moderate Republican, in the same position as Rick Santorum. (Read why below.)

***Keep reading for more North Carolina political intelligence in today's Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: Ahead of 2014 race, Berger, Tillis hit by national Democrats

2014 WATCH: National Democrats hit potential GOP candidates Tillis, Berger on Ryan budget. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis are making enough moves toward challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagain in 2014 that its attracting the attention of national Democrats. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is asking whether the two Republicans support Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan. "Republicans in Washington are back with their Medicare-busting budget plan, but potential GOP Senate hopefuls Phil Berger and Thom Tillis have yet to tell North Carolinians where they stand," starts a statement from the DSCC set for release later Tuesday.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House will consider a bill to curtail local building design standards that local mayors want stopped dead in its tracks (more below) as well as a measure to limit tanning beds for those under age 18. House convenes at 1 p.m.; Senate convenes at 2 p.m. Gov. Pat McCrory will make a school safety announcement in Apex in the morning.

***Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for exclusive North Carolina political news and analysis. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Read more below.***

Morning Memo: Rare session at Capitol, more fallout from tainted donor

UPDATED: TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House and Senate convene this evening in the old legislative chambers at the Capitol to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the recovering of the N.C. Bill of Rights after a Union soldier took it during the Civil War. Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a reception for the event earlier in the day.

McCRORY DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM TAINTED BURNS MONEY:From AP: North Carolina's governor says he had no contact with a campaign contributor who faces racketeering charges in Florida over illegal gambling. Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday he had never heard of Chase Egan Burns, the Oklahoma man accused this week of owning gambling parlors operated by Allied Veterans of the World. Prosecutors say the purported charity earned about $300 million from illegal gambling, with only about 2 percent actually going to veterans. McCrory's campaign has purged itself Wednesday of $8,000 in contributions made in October by Burns and his wife, sending the money to a Durham charity. "I wouldn't know him if I saw him," said McCrory, a Republican. "I think we got it (the checks) through the mail."

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Click "Read More" for more.***

Morning Memo: McCrory budget may emerge soon, men oppose 'nipple bill'

McCRORY BUDGET RELEASE NEXT WEEK? Top GOP lawmakers say Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to release his state budget plan next week. The governor's office is remaining mum. But budget details are leaking to lawmakers, who say McCrory's spending plan isn't like to include details of a major tax overhaul, such as corporate or personal income tax cuts, and instead it will assume the tax plan being negotiated privately by Republicans will be revenue neutral.

MEN OPPOSE NIPPLE BILL: Public Policy Polling will release more from its statewide voter survey later Friday. But here's a peak: nearly half of men -- 45 percent -- oppose the bill to prohibit women from barring their breasts and 34 percent support. Women are deadlocked at 38 percent on what is called the "nipple bill." (Insert stereotypical joke about men here.)

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. And read much more below.***

NC House Dems, McCrory donate campaign cash from sweepstakes owner

UPDATED 3 p.m.:The fallout continues after the arrest of a sweepstakes company owner who played big in North Carolina political circles.

The N.C. House Democratic caucus announced Thursday its members would donate an amount equal to the campaign contributions they received from Chase Burns, the owner of International Internet Technologies, to various veteran charities.

State campaign finance records show at least five House Democratic members received a total of $8,000 from Burns in 2012 -- though the total number and amount is likely much more. Those who took contributions include: Reps. Rick Glazier, Susi Hamilton, Winkie Wilkins, Becky Carney and Joe Tolson. The caucus did not state the total donation amount, as it is still examining campaign finance records.

The move also puts pressure on Republicans to do the same. Republicans received far more money from Burns in 2012. The state GOP House and Senate caucuses accepted $55,000 combined from Burns, who also gave the $4,000 maximum to Gov. Pat McCrory. A party spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday morning. A McCrory spokeswoman said his campaign gave $4,000 to a Durham Rescue Mission.

House speaker raising money off leaked strategy memo

It didn't take long for House Speaker Thom Tillis to use a strategy memo about how to weaken the state's Republican leadership as a way to raise money.

The Republican leader sent a fundraising solicitation Friday, less than a day after the story broke. "We are only three weeks in to the legislative session and ultra-liberal organizations, in partnership with the Democratic Party and Democratic legislative leaders have vowed to "cripple" me," he writes. "The confidential strategy document sayes (sic) the key to their success is to“Eviscerate the [republican] leadership and weaken their ability to govern.”   

Morning Memo: Circus returns to town, McCrory's big gaffe

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The circus returns to town as lawmakers start the legislative session at noon. The House and Senate calendars show no bills for consideration and no committees are scheduled to meet -- the first will meet Thursday, it appears. For the first day, the action will take place largely behind the scenes as lawmakers file bills for the session. In the House, each lawmaker can file 10 bills and there is no limit in the Senate. What will they emphasize this year?

Gov. Pat McCrory welcomed lawmakers back to Raleigh with a private breakfast at the mansion. The move is reminiscent of how former Gov. Jim Hunt would engage the legislature to successfully push his agenda. Will McCrory become his own chief lobbyist? The Republican remains mum about where he stands much of the GOP legislative agenda, so far.

McCRORY'S BIG 'GENDER STUDIES' GAFFE: More and more it's looking like McCrory's comments on higher education to national radio show host Bill Bennett amounted to a major gaffe. By the end of the day -- after his remarks about funding universities and liberal arts courses went viral and elicited a caustic reaction in the public sphere -- his press shop began tempering his language if not outright apologizing. “This was not meant to be a personal attack on UNC,” said spokeswoman Crystal Feldman. “Gov. McCrory did not mean to tarnish UNC’s reputation.”

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- a daily source for the latests analysis and news in North Carolina politics. Click "Read More" for more. Updated at 10 a.m.***

Morning Memo: Tillis to face questions, Carolina Panthers want state money

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: House Speaker Thom Tillis will offer a preview of the legislative session this morning in a closely watched press conference. His Republican counterpart in the Senate, President Pro Tem Phil Berger, did the same earlier this month and how the two visions dovetail -- or don't -- may set the tone for this year's term.

Three questions for Tillis: 1. Where does the Republican speaker stand on taxes? Like Gov. Pat McCrory, Tillis has been careful not to stake a specific position in recent days but with the session upon us, his direction is important to the anticipated legislation and its progress. 2. Does he support the Carolina Panther's request for state money for upgrades to the private Bank of America Stadium and the city of Charlotte's efforts to raise the food tax to fund renovations? 3. His GOP lieutenants in the House appear willing to push ahead with unemployment benefit cuts despite a federal prohibition -- meaning 85,000 jobless people in North Carolina will lose their federal benefits. How does the GOP avoid looking callous in a time of great need?

***This is the Dome Morning Memo, good morning. One day until the legislative session starts in earnest. Read below for more N.C. political intelligence and big headlines. ***

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