Late Thursday night, the North Carolina House passed HB-589, an elections bill that it is breathtaking in scope and radical in purpose. It makes the most regressive and sweeping changes to the core parts of our state’s election process in decades. In 57 pages, this redefines and restricts who can vote, where, when and how and allows more money to pour into our elections.
It seems fitting that the legislative leaders rammed the bill through in the final days of the session. The substance and process of this legislation demonstrates a complete disrespect of honest voters and free and fair elections. Legislative leaders used HB-589, the House’s original voter ID bill, as a cover for a host of unpopular measures that would have faced a tougher time on their own, under the scrutiny of wider media coverage and real public debate.
Some of the most controversial measures in the bill include cutting a week off the popular Early Voting period, ending Same-Day registration, ending mandatory voter registration drives in high schools and authorizing vigilante poll observers.
The parts of the bill that allow more big money to flow into our elections have received far less public attention, and yet their impact on our election system will be just as serious. In addition to killing the state’s successful public financing programs, HB-589 increases campaign contribution limits, kills the state’s pioneering Stand By Your Ad law, makes it harder to know what outside groups are spending, and increases the influence of “dark money” in NC elections.
Here is a summary of the provisions that open our elections to more (and more secret) big money:
- Ends the state’s pioneering “Stand By Your Ad” law, which requires the candidate or CEO to appear on television or radio and say “I am (candidate or CEO) and I approve this message.” The Federal Stand by Your Ad law was based off of North Carolina’s law.
- Repeals a disclosure measure designed to give the public knowledge about who paid for certain kinds of campaign ads by requiring the top 5 donors to a corporate entity from the last 6 months to be disclosed in print media. Repealing the provision keeps dark money even more secret from the public.
- Two provisions that will mean outside groups can spend unlimited amounts of money, from virtually any source, throughout the summer against a candidate without disclosing the source or amounts to the public. From the May primary to September 15 of even-numbered years, the public will get no information about who is financing the spending.
- Increases the corporate money that can go to political party headquarters to pay for up to things like personnel, rent, and utilities.
- Raises contribution limits from $4,000 to $5,000 per election and indexes the limit to increase every two years to keep up with inflation. It also raises contribution limits for all judicial candidates from $1,000 to $5,000.
House bill 589 is elitist politics at its worst – politicians rigging the election process for their own narrow interests and the benefit of their wealthy donors. The changes in this bill deserve careful study and strong public debate because the public needs to know the facts.
We hope that Governor McCrory will show true leadership and put a stop this legislative madness by vetoing HB-589.