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Pork, beer, concrete and a painkiller

Those are the ingredients of a North Carolina gubernatorial campaign

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In most of the United States, the news about political fundraising in the 2004 campaign was all about the Internet, small donors, Howard Dean's successful gleanings followed by John Kerry's, and the undeniable fact that--at the end of the day--the Republicans are still collecting more under-$100 contributions than the Democrats. But in North Carolina, time stood still in '04, as our Democratic and Republican candidates for governor raised virtually no money from small donors and acted like the World Wide Web was something that spiders concocted.

They got their money from Big Donors. Not only that, they got a lot of it from the same Big Donors, who doubtless figure on running things regardless of how the little people vote.

Full credit for this insight goes to Democracy North Carolina, the watchdog group based in Carrboro, and in particular its research director, Bob Hall. Both Gov. Mike Easley, the victor, and Republican challenger Patrick Ballantine "got the bulk of their financial support from a very tiny group of very wealthy individuals and special interests," Hall says. "Neither gubernatorial candidate tried to attract a broad base of support from small donors, and neither imitated the successful Internet donation solicitation of the presidential candidates in 2004."

How big were the B-Ds? Almost half of Easley's money came from $4,000-and-up donors, and 37 percent of Ballantine's, according to Hall ($4,000 is the election limit, but the primary was an election, too). Together, less than 1,000 B-Ds gave the two candidates almost $5 million, which was 22 times what they raised from their small donors who gave $100 or less.

Combined, Easley and Ballantine raised only $230,000 from the $100-and-under crowd (through their mid-October campaign reports). That's out of their combined total of $12 million!

Topping the gubernatorial donor lists are what Hall calls the Switch Hitters, who--in true bipartisan fashion--gave to both candidates. Why would they do that? Well, a lot of them are in the real estate development and construction game, which means they have a lot at stake, depending on how much road-building the state does--and where. Folks like the Futrells in Raleigh ($19,000 to both candidates), the Weisigers in Charlotte ($20,000), and the Richard Vaughn family of Mount Airy ($21,000). Yes, Mayberry has its B-Ds too.

Joining the concrete-pavers this year on Hall's list of Switch Hitters:

  • Big Hogs: Hog industry Switch Hitters gave $49,850 to Easley and Ballantine. This includes such well-known folks as Wendell Murphy Sr. (and, for that matter, Jr.) of Duplin County and William Prestage of Clinton, as well as the N.C. Pork Council PAC and Smithfield Foods PAC. Every year the state tolerates those "lagoons" full of, er, hog waste is money in the bank for the industry.
  • Big Beer: Did somebody mention raising the taxes on beer? (It comes up a lot.) The gubernatorial candidates raked in $83,385 from switch-hitting beer wholesales, including Raleigh's own Worth Harris, CEO of Harris Wholesale, who gave $2,000 to Easley and $4,000 to Ballantine.
  • Big Sleep: Anesthesiologists were active Switch Hitters, to the tune of $70,400, including $8,250 from Critical Health Systems PAC in Raleigh, one of six such PACs of anesthesiologists around the state.

    "Switch hitters want to secure their access to the top decision-makers regardless of which political party or individual wins," says Hall, "They're less interested in the candidate's ideology than in gaining an advantage over Joe and Jane Voter."

    Public financing of political campaigns would help Joe and Jane be heard, Hall argues. More than that, it would also let candidates choose whether to keep taking Big Money from the switch-hitting special interests or swear off it and go in search of small donors and a broader base of political support.

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