Special interest elections 2.0

Special interest elections 2.0

- in Fitzsimon File

Hang on, here comes the big corporate money into North Carolina politics, trying to determine who controls the General Assembly in 2011.

Gary Robertson of the Associated Press reported this week that the 527 group Real Jobs NC is spending $500,000 to air television ads across the state criticizing the decisions made by legislators in the last two years, focusing primarily on taxes and regulation.

Real Jobs NC received the money from Art Pope's Variety Wholesalers, the Republican State Leadership Committee, and RightChange.com. That's another right-wing advocacy group started by Fred Eshelman, the CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc. in Wilmington and two Republican state legislators, Representative Jeff Barnhart and Senator Fletcher Hartsell.

RightChange.com is running ads of its own in Congressional races across the country and ran anti-Obama ads in 2008 so ridiculous that even one conservative group called them an "outright, nonsensical lie."

Eshelman is far and away the principal funder of RightChange.com, contributing several million dollars and he is one of the founding three members of Real Jobs NC too, so the $100,000 RightChange.com donated to pay for the current commercial is more of a transfer between right-wing accounts than a contribution.

Eshelman is also well-known in Chapel Hill. The School of Pharmacy at UNC-CH was renamed for Eshelman two years ago after he gave more than $30 million to the university.

The Republican State Leadership Committee ponied up $300,000 for the ads, and its campaign finance reports show contributions from a variety of corporations from payday lenders to pharmaceutical companies.

Pope is a frequent funder of Republican causes but now his company can give the money directly thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that removed the prohibition on corporate money in electoral politics.

Pope calls the Real Jobs NC effort nonpartisan but the AP story pointed out the group has indicated it plans to focus on House Democrats in swing districts in the future, which sounds like the definition of partisan.

The agenda is clear too. The Real Jobs NC website proclaims that "for business to survive in North Carolina, it's time to fight back against the frivolous lawsuit trial lawyers, big union bosses and radical environmental groups that threaten our state's economic future."

As ridiculous as that sounds, it's a sentiment that will be repeated hundreds of times between now and November by Real Jobs and RightChange.com and whatever other right-wing groups that are created with conservative corporate money.

House Speaker Joe Hackney told AP that "there will always be wealthy people who will try to buy elections with their money" and that he hoped that some Democrats would come forward to fight back.

Coming forward means wealthy Democrats funding groups and ads of their own and that's already happening and certain to happen more with big money from unions and trial lawyers and other wealthy interests.

That's just as troubling, but the Citizens United decision makes that battle tipped heavily in corporate America's favor. Nobody has more money than big oil, drug companies and the financial industry and they all seem ready to spend it to exert even more control over Congress and the North Carolina General Assembly.

Welcome to democracy 2010 and the November auction that is approaching.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
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