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March 1998 – Arrest Warrant Issued for Campaign Finance Violator

March 7, 1998


Rest home mogul Steve Price, one of the subjects of a Democracy South complaint to the State Board of Elections, has been charged by the SBI with violations of North Carolina’s campaign law. At the heart of the charges lies the practice of “bundling”: the grouping of contributions by employees and families of a company or industry to be presented en masse to candidates. Pierce, his relatives and business associates gave over $200,000 in bundled contributions to state candidates in 1996.

Bundling checks from different donors of the same industry to the same candidate on the same day is not necessarily illegal as a practice, but it is a violation when the money isn’t really the donors’ own, involves corporate resources, or it is used to circumvent NC Election laws, which require groups of donors to form PACs or political committees.

The practice of bundling is particularly sinister because it allows special interests to secretly collect and channel money outside the context of a PAC. By bundling, the donors can avoid the contribution limits and disclosure rules imposed on PACs, yet impress the recipient candidate with their collective financial muscle.

Like other wealthy donors, bundlers give for many reasons. Most simply, they give when the candidate needs help in order to gain access to ask for something they need help with — a tax break, key appointment, regulatory relief, a bill amended, or some other special favor.
The SBI’s investigation, and the charges filed against Pierce are at once both a breakthrough and a beginning. It is a real victory for the voters of this state to see officials taking a more serious approach to enforcing our existing campaign laws. It is just the beginning, however, as the example of Pierce’s wrongdoing are but the tip of a very large iceberg that underpins the whole of North Carolina politics.

The exposure of the widespread practice of bundling, in two reports issued by Democracy South in 1997, was instrumental in winning the passage of Senate Bill 1, The Full Disclosure Act. Now that donors will be required to list their employer, and candidates will be required to file more timely reports, practices such as bundling will be much more easy to spot.
It is very important now for our state’s leaders to recognize the fact that disclosure of campaign contributions, while a positive step for the public’s right to know, only provides a better view of what is clearly a sick and broken system. As the mountains of evidence pile up, it is becoming painfully clear that big money politics has in its grip virtually all aspects of politics and decision making in this state.

The time has come to fix the system, not just one board or division at a time, but to fix the problem at the root of all the other symptoms: our system of campaign financing must be changed. Senator Wib Gulley’s NC Clean Elections Act (SB 381) , approved by the key Senate Judiciary Committee last year, represents an historic opportunity for North Carolina to establish real change in our state’s campaign financing.

The Clean Elections Act will provide a critically needed alternative to today’s privately financed campaigns by offering candidates a choice. Candidates who accept serious limits on campaign spending will have the option of cutting their dependence on big money donors by using Clean Money (from a fund set up by the state) to finance their campaign.

By offering this choice, passage of the Clean Elections Act will allow candidates run for office regardless of their access to personal or private wealth. Elected officials will finally be able to pursue the job of representing the voters without being sidetracked by the need for fundraising, and without the risk of finding themselves tainted by a campaign financing scandal (as has Sen. Purdue with the charges against Pierce). Voters will be able to choose candidates that they know are not beholden to private interests.

As we now get a clearer view of the corruption that pervades our current system, the need for change becomes more urgent. Don’t the citizens of this state deserve better? The NC Clean Elections Act will let each candidate and voter choose for themselves.