Architect behind changes to NC judiciary late (again) in filing campaign finance report

Architect behind changes to NC judiciary late (again) in filing campaign finance report

North Carolinians hoping to find out who’s been funding Rep. Justin Burr’s crusade this legislative session to change the judiciary are in the dark.

The five-term Republican legislator from Stanly has not yet filed his mid-year semi-annual campaign finance report, according to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The report was due July 31.

It’s the second time this year that Burr has filed a finance report late — his fourth quarter 2016 campaign finance report was due Jan. 11 and not filed until Jan. 17. He was assessed a $150 penalty which the Board waived “for good cause.”

Burr did not respond to an email asking why he had not yet filed his semi-annual report and when he planned to file the document. When asked Thursday after a joint House and Senate legislative redistricting committee meeting about the report, Burr said he had no comment.

“That’s a campaign issue and we’re in the legislature, so it’s not appropriate to discuss,” he said.

State Board spokesman Patrick Gannon said that most election committees file reports on time, but that it’s not unusual for reports to come in late. Penalty assessment letters stemming from this reporting period likely will go out in September or October.

The following is the penalty guidelines in the State Board’s campaign finance manual:

“Civil Penalties Candidate committees are assessed penalties for late-filed reports. A candidate committee’s report that does not affect a statewide election is penalized at $50 per day not to exceed $500… In calculating penalties, only days during which the elections board office is open are counted toward the penalty amount. Failure to pay assessed penalties could result in a committee’s active status being terminated. A terminated committee is not eligible to receive contributions or make expenditures until all disclosure is complete and penalties are paid.”

Gannon said Burr’s penalty at the beginning of the year was waived because it was his first late report in the 2016 election cycle. The first late report of an election cycle is eligible for a penalty waiver, per a longstanding State Board practice, he said.

Burr is behind most of the legislative measures this session that changed the judiciary or sought to change the judiciary, including a bill that was passed that reduced the state Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12.

Burr also is behind a measure expected to be taken up in the next month that redraws all judicial and prosecutorial maps. House Bill 717 would dramatically change the way district attorneys and judges are elected across the entire state.

It was written without input from the judiciary, like many of Burr’s bills, and is expected to have stark consequences.

Burr has declined to turn over communications about HB717, citing a North Carolina law that gives legislators immunity from public scrutiny.

“As you are probably aware, all records are not ‘public records’ even though those records may have been created, received, or in the custody of a public official,” he wrote in an email.

Without communications about HB717, the public does not know how the new judicial and prosecutorial maps were created, what criteria was used, who was involved in drawing them or why they needed to be changed.

Burr can operate in secrecy, despite taking an oath to represent the people of North Carolina, but not when it comes to his campaign finance reports.

All candidates for public office are required to submit campaign finance reports. The reports show how much money was contributed to candidates, by whom, how much and where candidates spend that money.

Democracy NC Executive Director Bob Hall said the reports provide a window into the core backers of a candidate.

“It’s part of the public’s right to know, so repeated failure to file shows a clear disrespect for the public,” Hall said. “It’s especially valuable to have reports when a politician seems focused on a particular interest to see if there’s a connection to the money the politician is pulling in from certain donors.”

Lawmakers are also in the middle of redrawing legislative maps to correct unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Burr’s district, which encompasses Stanly and Montgomery counties, will be redrawn and there is a chance he could be “double-bunked” or forced to run for office against another incumbent.

Campaign finance data would be one way to compare fundraising abilities in the case of double-bunking.