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KR Real Cities. Real News. Real Information. Real People.
KR Real Cities. Real News. Real Information. Real People.
Published Tuesday, July 31, 2001
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$5.4 million spent on campaigns

PACs picked well for 2000 legislative race

Study: 93% of donations from interest groups went to candidates who won

Raleigh Bureau

Give the state's biggest corporations and special-interest groups credit: When it comes to politics, they sure know how to pick 'em.

Political action committees formed by companies such as Duke Power and Bank of America and interest groups like the N.C. Home Builders Association gave a record $5.4 million to General Assembly candidates last year.

More than 93percent of those donations went to the winners, according to a new report from the advocacy group Democracy South.

"It's a big donor-driven system, more and more each year as the cost of campaigns rise and rise," said Pete MacDowell, executive director of the Carrboro-based group, a political watchdog group. "It's terrible now, and it's only going to get worse."

Since they are generally blocked by law from acting as agents of political candidates, special-interest groups and businesses establish political action committees to donate money.

According to Democracy South, two out of every five legislators got more than half their campaign cash from political action committees. Just two winning lawmakers - Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, and Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson - declined to take PAC money.

The biggest PAC recipients were some of the legislature's most influential members: House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, got $341,650 from PACs, about 34 percent of his total. Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, received $191,329, 18 percent of his donations.

The big numbers are more affirming than surprising. The cost of running for the legislature has leapfrogged in recent years: The average House winner spent $69,000 in 2000, compared to $49,800 in 1998. The average Senator spent $134,500, up from $117,500 two years earlier.

State election laws allow PACs and individuals to give $4,000 to each candidate per election cycle. Bills to bring public campaign financing to North Carolina - allowing candidates who agree to certain spending limits to receive public funds - have been filed in the legislature but appear stuck in committee.

As campaign costs rise, the influence of small donors, people who give less than $100, wanes.

In 1990, PACs contributed $2 million to legislative candidates. Big-money donors, political parties and other candidates contributed another $2.2 million - meaning PACs, parties and big donors accounted for about 70percent of campaign contributions.

In 2000, they made up 87percent of total contributions. In addition to the $5.4 million donated by PACs last year, parties, big-money donors and other candidates gave $9.6 million. Candidates raised $17.3 million.

PAC organizers don't apologize for their largesse. As the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, money is a form of political free speech. Campaign contributions buy access and influence, vital in a place where more than 1,000 pieces of legislation are filed every year.

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