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June 1998 – Less Democracy for More Money: 1998 Primary Analysis

June 24, 1998


’98 Primary Analysis: “We’re getting less democracy for more money.”

As Congress this week debates changes in federal campaign finance laws, reformers in North Carolina are stepping up their criticism of a state Republican plan to allow businesses to finance candidates with unlimited donations.

“A few Republicans in Washington have had the guts to buck their leadership and support campaign finance reform, which is exactly what we need here in North Carolina,” said Carol Love, executive director of Common Cause of N.C.

Last month, the state Republican party called for overturning the state’s 1931 ban on business contributions and for allowing unlimited donations from any non-foreign source to a candidate or party. Echoing that call, House Republican leaders have blocked efforts by Democrats to modernize North Carolina’s election laws to conform with recent federal court rulings.

“If the GOP gets its way, we could have a complete corporate takeover of state politics,” said Warren Murphy, president of the N.C. Alliance for Democracy. “Instead of finding remedies for the fundraising arms race, Republican leaders want even more special-interest money polluting our democracy.”

An analysis of the spring 1998 primary by Democracy South provides new evidence that money is becoming the single biggest factor in deciding who wins a seat in the North Carolina General Assembly. War chests of campaign cash chase away potential opponents and overwhelm under-financed challengers, the report shows.

According to Democracy South:

»  95 percent of the winners in this spring’s primary either outspent a challenger or faced no opponent at all, a jump from 88 percent in the 1996 primary.

»  In two-thirds of the contested primary races, the winner raised at least twice as much as the loser. In nearly half the races, the winner raised four or more times as much money as the loser.

»  By April 19, 1998, legislative candidates had already raised $4.5 million — more money than all 170 winning legislative candidates raised in the entire 1992 election cycle.

»  Although fundraising has expanded with bipartisan competition, the number of legislative candidates in the 1998 primary and general election is the lowest in a decade. In November, 40 percent of the General Assembly candidates face no major party opponent, a jump from 30 percent in 1996.

»  Voter turnout has also declined. Fewer people voted in the 1998 spring primary than did in the non-presidential primaries of 1990 and 1986 even though the state’s population has grown by more than 1 million people in the past dozen years.

“As the fundraising arms race escalates, fewer people feel inclined to run for office, just as fewer citizens are voting,” Collins Kilburn of the N.C. Council of Churches pointed out. “We’re getting less democracy for more money.”

Campaign finance reformers – including the Alliance, Common Cause, Democracy South and the N.C. Council of Churches – say they will rally at the state Legislative Building on July 2 to protest the lack of serious attention legislators have given their proposals.

“We want politicians to show their independence from special-interest money by adopting comprehensive campaign finance reforms,” said Alliance coordinator Len Stanley. “People are disgusted with all the scandals we’ve seen, not just in Washington, but here in North Carolina.”
Stanley said the Alliance and its 50 member groups are pushing three bills this session “that would undercut the culture of dealmaking now corrupting our democracy”:

• House Bill 1700 restricts soft money and rewrites the ban on donations from businesses and unions to meet Constitutional standards;

• Senate Bill 1575 strengthens enforcement of campaign finance laws;

• Senate Bill 381 creates a Clean Election Fund as an alternative source of money for candidates who accept strict spending limits and reject fundraising from private sources.

“The current system of financing elections is breeding mistrust and cynicism, if not outright corruption,” said Collins Kilburn of the Council of Churches. “Imagine the bidding wars and outrage from fans if baseball umpires took private donations from each team.”

“We’re moving closer and closer to selling seats in the General Assembly to the highest bidder,” said Murphy of the Alliance, “and that means we’re auctioning off tax breaks, clean water, road projects, our schools, elderly care, workplace safety – everything that public policy touches.”
At the rally scheduled for noon on July 2, reformers will stage a mock auction with a professional auctioneer to dramatize their claim that seats and policies are being sold to the highest bidder.

Other members of the Alliance range from the Concerned Citizens of Tillery, Western N.C. Alliance, and Chatham County Political Reform Group to the N.C. Coastal Federation, the N.C. Consumers Council and N.C. Fair Share.



Number of voters in 1998 US Senate primary:  805,319

Average # of voters in 1986 and 1990 primaries:  885,000

Difference in comparable races: 1998 vs. 1986/1990  -80,000

% Adults (18+ years old) who voted in 1998 primary: 14%

% Adults who voted in 1990 primary: 17%

% Adults who voted in 1986 primary: 19%


Number of legislative candidates in 1998 primary:  318
Average number for 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996:  371
Difference in # candidates: 1998 vs. previous 4 primaries -53

Number of candidates with primary opponent: 105
Number of seats contested: 50

Number of major party candidates without primary opposition: 213
Number of these who are incumbents: 125

Number of incumbents in 1998 primary: 154
Number of incumbents who won primary: 153*

Number of major party candidates left in 1998 general election: 263
Average number for 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996: 280
Difference in # candidates: 1998 vs. previous 4 primaries -17


Amount raised by legislative candidates thru 4/19/98:  $4.5 million
Amount raised by legislative winners in 1992 cycle:  $4.1 million

% of winners who raised more than loser or had no opponent:  95%
% of similar winners in 1996 primary:  88%
Number of winners who raised more than loser:  38 of 50 races
% winners who raised more than twice as much as loser:  67%
% winners who raised more than four times what loser did:  44%

*No winner yet in House District 10 (Rep. Cindy Watson vs. Johnnie Manning)