Protesters at the capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Outside in the muggy afternoon sun, “Moral Monday” activists today are holding their tenth demonstration on the grassy Halifax Mall lawn behind the state legislative building in North Carolina. A broad coalition of activists have staged the demos, which often result in arrests for engaging in civil disobedience, to protest a tidal wave of right-wing legislation, including new restrictions on voting, corporate tax cuts funded in part by tax hikes on the poor, the decision to block the Medicaid expansion, a so-called “Ag-Gag” bill blocking reporting on industrial farming, an expansion in loosely regulated fracking, and beyond.
Indoors, at ritzy venues like the penthouse Cardinal Club of the Wells Fargo skyscraper overlooking the state capital, corporate lobbyists have thrown an elaborate set of parties for Governor Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders.
The success of big business-friendly legislation this session is largely the result of McCrory’s victory in November, replacing Democrat Bev Perdue, who had been a check on the Republican-held legislature. Now, Republican leaders face few barriers in enacting their agenda, which in many cases reflects the interests of large companies with business in the state.
A review of 2013 state lobbying disclosures by The Nation reveals that lobbyists have not only been generous with campaign contributions. They are also cultivating influence the old fashion way, through expensive meals and parties:
• The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, a trade group led by executives from Bank of America, Cisco and other firms, has spent $29,011 this year on catered events, which have included lawmakers, legislators and Governor McCrory. The governor attended the group’s reception at the Umstead Hotel & Spa. Lawmakers were treated to a party at the North Carolina Museum of History.
• The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for oil and drilling companies, hosted a reception at the Cardinal Club with state legislators that cost $3,080. At the same venue, API also hosted a reception that cost $2,897 for three state senators, including Bob Rucho, who is leading the effort to fast-track fracking in the state.
• The North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives has spent $34,433 on food and beverage for members of the General Assembly and other elected officials. Utility company interests have been criticized for attempting to advance legislation that would have repealed the state renewable energy goals.
• The North Carolina Biosciences Organization, a trade group for biotech firms like Amgen and Monsanto, spent $13,931 on a party with state lawmakers and cabinet officials at the North Carolina Museum of History.
• The Association of Executives of North Carolina, a group financed by T-Mobile and business interest groups including the NC Pork Council, sponsored a $27,454 party for state lawmakers, lobbyists other officials.
• The North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, a group funded by Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Walgreen, Kerr Drugs and other retailers, has spent over $7,755 to host two receptions at the North Carolina Museum of History for lawmakers.
• The N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, along with other lobby groups, including the Resident Lenders of North Carolina, a trade group for payday lenders and other companies in the consumer finance industry, sponsored the “Rush the Growler” party for lawmakers, a $12,689 event with a wide array of different beers. In June, the legislature passed a bill removing the maximum interest rate payday lenders and other consumer finance companies can charge borrowers.
“Corporations in North Carolina continue to exercise all sorts of influence on our lawmakers,” says Chris Fitzsimon, founder of the NC Policy Watch, a progressive watchdog group in the state. North Carolina has seen a huge influx of so-called soft money in recent campaigns—unlimited contributions that are in some cases funneled through opaque advocacy organizations. But Fitzsimon says there are other avenues for special interests to dump money into the state, “particularly through parties and entertainment.”
For some state lawmakers, special interests could be doing more to please them. State Representative Robert Brawley (R-Iredell), a member of the leadership, sponsored a measure to repeal the remaining prohibitions and disclosure requirements on gifts to lawmakers. Brawley told local media that the rules prohibiting lobbyist gifts “are an impediment to meeting and exchanging ideas and information.”
The Nation’s Ari Berman on why North Carolina is the new Wisconsin.