Is NC Heading Toward a Taxpayer Bail-Out for Private Homeowners?
Vacation Island Donors Give $2 Million, Push For Jetties
For Release Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Contact: Bob Hall, 919-489-1931
Bill Sponsor Received $22,500 in 2010
As the legislature debates a controversial bill to allow construction of “terminal groins” along North Carolina’s beaches, a new study reveals that the bill’s chief sponsor and other state lawmakers have received $2 million in campaign donations from a group of groin advocates who own vacation homes on Figure 8 Island near Wilmington.
The group includes many of the richest, most powerful political donors in North Carolina. They have hired prominent Republican and Democratic lobbyists and created a political action committee (PAC) called the Island Preservation Society, which has donated more than $100,000 to lawmakers, according to the analysis by the nonpartisan group Democracy North Carolina.
Lobbyists for the Figure 8 Beach Homeowners Association include former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker and Joseph H. Lanier, former Sen. Jesse Helms’ legislative director. Donors to the Island Preservation Society PAC include restaurant owners Nick Boddie and Louis Sewell, investors William Armfield IV and Thomas Kenan III, publisher Frank Daniels Jr., developers Julian Rawl and Stephen Cornwell, contractors Earl Johnson Jr., John Bratton Jr. and Frank Dowd IV, auto dealers Fred Anderson and Linda Leith, beer wholesalers Lewis Nunnelee and Rodney Long, entrepreneurs Nat Harris and Charles Winston, and about 100 other civic and business leaders.
In addition to the PAC, the group of donors and their immediate families have given more than $1.8 million to state politicians since they began their pro-jetties campaign in late 2003 with a fundraising drive for then state Senate leader Marc Basnight. The Senate under Basnight repeatedly adopted bills to undo the state’s longstanding ban against groins, but the House and Speaker Joe Hackney blocked their passage. Basnight led all recipients with $14,000 from the Preservation Society PAC and $305,989 directly from its backers from Nov. 2003 to Dec. 2010. (See details on pages 2 and 3 of http://www.democracy-nc.org/PDFs/Fig8DnrsPR2011.pdf)
Not all the homeowners on Figure 8 Island support the groins, and nearly all coastal geologists say they will hasten erosion for down-beach property. Nevertheless, the island’s groin advocates have stepped up their donations in the past two years, especially to Republicans.
State Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville), the main sponsor of Senate Bill 110 to allow terminal groins near inlets, received $22,500 in the 2010 election cycle from donors related to Figure 8 Island and the Preservation Society PAC, according to Democracy North Carolina. He received only $2,000 in the previous five years combined.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Eden) received $10,450 in 2010 from the donors, including $1,000 from the PAC, his first donations from these donors since the PAC began.
“The large role of private money in public elections puts good lawmakers and donors under added scrutiny,” said Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina. “The amount of money major donors can give and raise will make politicians pay attention, but legislation should stand on its merits, not depend on campaign donations. Republican leaders who said they opposed pay-to-play politics must now be careful not to practice what they preached against.”