By Penny Smith
Did you, like me, get a couple of glossy mailers about all the good things that Mike Clampitt did for us in the 2017 legislative session? They were funded by something called the Carolina Leadership Coalition.
Its mission, according to their web site is to promote “limited government, free enterprise, and low taxation [to] spur job creation and wage growth;” They also believe that “well-funded schools thrive when teachers, principals, and parents are empowered to do what’s best for each child.” (Who doesn’t?) However, because “conservative ideas are under attack everyday. The Carolina Leadership Coalition engages North Carolinians through education, research, and advocacy to implement these principles in state government.” In other words they push out propaganda, like those nice flyers. But who pays for them?
Its registered agent, at least at one time, was Steven B. Long. Long is on the NC Board of Governors; he was the force behind eliminating the ability of UNC’s Civil Rights Center to litigate on behalf of poor people. A Republican donor, he was on the board of Art Pope’s Civitas Institute, but resigned when he won a seat on the Board of Governors. He has also served as the Treasurer of the NC Republican Party.
One address for the Carolina Leadership Coalition is an office suite on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh. That must be a very large suite, because there are 9 companies listing that address as their agent’s address, including Integrity NC, NC Job Creators Forum and NC Non-Profit Corporation. It is also the address of a large, multi-state, law firm associated with Long.
However, on another set of papers the Carolina Leadership address is given as 10540 Swerling Way in Raleigh, a nice suburban house owned by Collin McMichael. It, too, must be large, because seven companies are listed there, including Common Sense Raleigh, North Carolina Issues Project and the Committee for Sound Policy Solutions.
McMichael was also treasurer for the Thom Tillis Committee, a role with which he is familiar. For example, he staffed the Elizabeth Dole campaigns. He is involved with a group called Holding Together Our Majority, which is affiliated with Tillis and includes among its donors the Koch Brothers. He is also linked to Mark Meadows (his treasurer for the Your Voice Counts PAC), whose donors include, yes, you guessed it, the Koch Brothers. And Meadows’ House Freedom Fund is linked to a number of astro-turf organizations as well as the Koch Brothers. For those of you who don’t know, the Koch Brothers are not from North Carolina. They’re not even southerners, although they have spent considerable money enlisting southerners to their pet causes. (Pope, Meadows and Tillis all have links with ALEC, an organization that churns out conservative policy papers and model legislation.)
What all this means: there already exists, both nationally and locally, a number of inter-connected GOP-led PACS that shuttle money around to support a particular ideological agenda. Mark Clampitt receives money from the Carolina Leadership Organization, which can be traced to Tillis, Meadows, Pope and the Koch Brothers. Because all these PACs can max out donations, it’s possible for one individual to funnel more than the maximum amount to a particular candidate. It’s also possible for these PACs to operate independently of any candidate and engage in negative advertising, which in the cases of the groups mentioned above, means negative advertising against Democrats.
We will never have the money (I’d like to think we’d also never engage in the shrouded manipulations) that these people have. Our main tools for fighting their coordinated disinformation campaigns are grassroots activism and education. The Clampitt mailers, like those of other state representatives mailed out by the same Carolina Leadership Coalition, are demonstrably misleading.
A good primer for what Citizens United has wrought in campaign finance is Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. She also authored an early article on our very own Art Pope, funder of most of the conservative political policy infrastructure in the state, for The New Yorker. It was chillingly entitled “State for Sale: A Conservative Multi-Millionaire Has Taken Control in North Carolina” (October 10, 2011). Happy reading.