Good government watchdog calls out flood of pot, casino cash flowing to NC lawmakers

By: - August 28, 2023 2:15 pm
two hands exchange a stack of 100 dollar bills

Photo: Getty Images

Veteran campaign finance watchdog Bob Hall, the former longtime executive director of the group Democracy North Carolina who helped expose former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black’s corruption in the early 2000’s, is out with another damning bit of research.

Bob Hall
Bob Hall – file photo

In a press release distributed this morning, Hall called attention to the fact that North Carolina legislators reeled in a truck-sized haul of campaign donations (more than a half-million bucks) from the gambling and marijuana industries during the first six months of this year.

This from the release:

A new analysis of political fundraising in North Carolina reveals that during the first half of 2023, while state legislators debated legalizing various forms of gambling and marijuana use, they also collected $530,000 in campaign contributions from political donors tied to those activities. 

Much of the political money came from outside the state, as well as from donors sanctioned in the past for illegal gambling and drug operations, according to Bob Hall, a longtime analyst of campaign finances. He provided profiles of a dozen donors who have been arrested for illegal slot machines, fined $1 million for bribes, described by state regulators as “not persons of good character,” or forced to destroy $1 million worth of illegally produced drugs. (See profiles below.)

“It’s hard to understand why legislative leaders would want to help these shady characters, particularly in the gambling industry, until you see all the money they give politicians,” said Hall. 

Hall noted that more than half the $530,000 came from individuals who had never given to a North Carolina legislator before 2022. “Suddenly, they’re writing checks for $2,000 or $5,000 to a legislator.  It looks like a lobbyist or somebody told them that this is a pay-to-play state – you need to put in the money if you want your bill passed this year or next.” 

North Carolina law bans lobbyists from giving or delivering contributions to a legislator, but it’s not illegal for someone who hires a lobbyist to donate to legislators while they are deciding how to vote on a bill promoted by the lobbyist. “People might call that bribery,” said Hall, “but the US Supreme Court says the donation is a form of free speech.” 

Hall’s revelations come during a period in which many observers have been surprised by the sudden and strong embrace that gambling interests have come to enjoy from GOP legislative leaders — first, earlier in the legislative session, in the form of a bill that will promote online gambling and, more recently, in the emergence of plans to approve as many as four new casinos in rural parts of the state.

A bill to approve the introduction of medical marijuana sales in the state passed the Senate in early March, but it has remained stalled in the House ever since.

Hall highlighted the fact that former Congressman Mark Walker — a Republican candidate for governor and critic of the gambling industry — recently told Charlotte radio station WFAE that the campaign cash has almost certainly played a key role in the rapid evolution of the GOP legislative caucus.

“So, there’s a lot of things here that just don’t pass the smell test,” Walker said. “I was blessed to serve in the fourth-highest position in Congress on the Republican side – I know how some of this stuff works. And when people [lawmakers] start cashing checks, they’re feeling like they’re getting to a place of a point of no return,” Walker added.

Click here to read the entire news release and the list of donors and recipients Hall has compiled.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.