The big buzz in North Carolina political circles these days is that the state’s May primary will matter in the presidential race, at least on the Democratic side, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may be battling for the nomination all the way to convention.
Statewide candidates are rethinking their strategies, with Democrats counting on much higher voter turnout in May and candidates of both parties pondering new advertising plans as the presidential candidates are likely to dominate the airwaves and the headlines.
And though not many people are paying attention, the battle for control of the General Assembly is well underway and one wing of the state’s corporate community, led by the group N.C Free, is gearing up as never before to influence legislative races, complete with its misleading business-friendly ranking of lawmakers and an aggressive new PAC.
N.C. Free ranks every member of the General Assembly on how business friendly they are, based on a survey of business lobbyists and voting records of lawmakers. Business lobbyists also determine which votes are used and the group refuses to release the list when it announces its business friendly rankings.
A copy obtained by N.C Policy Watch finds that the votes used in the rankings came on issues like solid waste management and the tax appeal process, but also included public financing of Council of State races, giving local school boards flexibility in determining the school calendar, changes in the state’s speeding laws.
A lawmaker must score higher than 75 on the subjective ranking system to be considered pro-business and the vast majority of the most business friendly legislators in N.C. Free’s ranking are Republicans.
The rankings have been around for years and despite the absurd formula used to calculate them, they are often used by lawmakers and the media to describe a legislator as pro or anti business. N.C Free is also known for its detailed analysis of each legislative district and candidate.
This year, the organization has formed a PAC that is not only set up to raise money and contribute to candidates itself, but is also asking members of N.C Free to send checks to favored candidates, even though many of the members are registered lobbyists who are banned by law from making contributions.
One recent flyer to members asked them to send “Cole Hard Cash” to Representative Nelson Cole and “Help Frye Fend Off Foes” by sending money to Rep. Phillip Frye. Both lawmakers are dubbed a “Jobs Defender” by the publication.
The group has also formed the North Carolina Prosperity Project that wants to “create a better informed North Carolina voter,” which sounds like a noble enough goal. But the Prosperity Project also identifies the top issues facing the state, “issues that matter most” according the website.
The include taxes, business regulation, and making North Carolina more business friendly. Nothing about improving schools, investing in affordable housing, child care, mental health and other services that help struggling families and create jobs.
Those issues aren’t important to N.C. Free and how lawmakers vote on them doesn’t matter. It is all part of the group’s philosophy that all business leaders want are lower taxes and less regulation.
It ignores the undeniable fact that businesses do well when the larger community does well. That means that child care, affordable housing and access to health care are business friendly in the long run. So are a well-educated workforce, a thriving public school system and world class universities and community colleges.
The more you see of N.C. Free, the clearer it becomes that the corporate lobbyists that dominate its Board ought to rethink the group’s name in light of its new aggressive electoral strategy and misleading business-friendly rankings. N.C. Free doesn’t really fit. N.C. Narrow would be far more accurate.