A court for sale and playing both sides of the fence

A court for sale and playing both sides of the fence

Two stories in the latest of flurry of election news are especially disturbing and graphic reminders of how perverted our democracy has become by the deluge of special interest money. One is making headlines. The other is just an aside offered amid all the polling news and latest fundraising totals.

The makeup of the North Carolina Supreme Court may well be decided by wealthy interests in North Carolina who have a direct stake in the decisions the court is likely to make in the next couple of years.

More than two million dollars is being spent to help re-elect conservative Justice Paul Newby who faces a strong challenge from Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV, the grandson of the late Senator Sam Ervin, Jr. who gained national prominence during the Watergate hearings in Congress.

Media reports have documented that the outside money being spent on Newby’s behalf comes from an interconnected network of groups with close ties to the Republican Party.

The actual contributions, once you can find them in the maze of reports, come from not only from the usual funders of right-wing causes like Raleigh businessman Art Pope, but also interests likely to have cases before the court, the medical malpractice industry, charter school and education privatization advocates, consumer finance companies, gambling interests, and the N.C. Chamber.

The special interests are making an investment with their contributions and they no doubt expect a return.

The same is true for Republican political funders. Next year the court will consider challenges to the gerrymandered legislative districts drawn by the Republican leaders of the General Assembly in 2011 that all but guarantee they will remain in power after next week’s election.

Political control of the General Assembly brings with it enormous political power, something big money donors with ideological agendas are willing to pay for.

It’s almost taken as an article of faith among the political establishment in Raleigh that Newby’s reelection will mean the gerrymandered maps will survive the legal challenge and that an Ervin victory could mean lawmakers will have to redraw them.

Maybe the conventional wisdom is wrong and the court will make its decision on the merits of the case and the constitutionality of the districts. But the widespread view that the race between Newby and Ervin will decide the redistricting case and affect political power in the state for a decade raises disturbing questions about the allegedly independent judicial branch of government.

It now seems to be much like the other two branches, for sale to the highest partisan bidder.

The week also brought news that Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers was holding a fundraiser for House Speaker Thom Tillis. Rogers is a supporter of President Obama and was the co-chair of the Democratic convention in Charlotte this year.

Tillis is Republican who disagrees with Obama on virtually everything and wants the Affordable Care Act repealed. Rogers supports and contributes to them both.

It’s clearly not about ideology with the power company CEO. It’s about access to political leaders who make decisions about regulations and tax policy that directly affect his company’s bottom line. He has now guaranteed himself special access to the president and the man in charge of the state House.

The obvious lesson in all of this is that big money controls our democracy, including our courts. Not much new there.

You can influence policy and legal decisions too and make sure your calls to the highest levels of government are returned.

Just give a couple hundred thousand dollars to the right political side or better still, give a couple hundred thousand to both.