Imagine speed dating adapted to the world of political fundraising and policymaking. It’s happening here in North Carolina routinely, thanks to the courtship of lobbying firms with wealthy clients and politicians eager for their cash. In identical front-page stories, the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer described one such event on May 10, 2012: Speaker Thom Tillis arrives at the office of McGuireWoods (one of the nation’s biggest law/lobbying firms), sits in a conference room and entertains six McGuireWoods clients in succession, in discrete half-hour sessions. The clients explain their deepest desires and typically fork over sizeable campaign contributions before or after the tête-à-tête.
The sweepstakes and video-poker industry was one of the clients that day – and a few days later, the Tillis campaign logged in a bundle of checks totaling $60,000 from 19 individuals tied to the industry. Pat McCrory’s campaign profited from similar sessions he arranged with McGuireWoods and perhaps another lobbying firm. The big days popped out from a data file Democracy North Carolina gave the reporters of over $700,000 in political contributions from sweepstakes and video-poker donors to NC politicians and political committees from 2010 through 2012. (The possible illegal role of lobbyists in bundling or delivering these donations is the subject of a complaint by Democracy NC now being investigated by the State Board of Elections.)
Tillis was the top recipient of the gambling industry’s money, taking in at least $127,000 in that three-year period; McCrory got at least $82,475 and Phil Berger received at least $57,500. As the news story explains, more industry donations would likely be identified if more campaigns filed their disclosure reports electronically and listed more donors with their correct business affiliation. At least then we’d get a complete picture, however gross, of who’s kissing who.