A Civitas investigation has revealed how lobbyist Bob Hall, Director of the liberal advocacy group Democracy North Carolina, is a behind-the-scenes driving force at the State Board of Elections (SBE) – even to mapping out partisan attacks on Republican legislators to the extent that it is hard to tell where the SBE ends and Democracy NC begins.
In 2012 Hall, a registered lobbyist led an attack on Republican legislators over a budget issue. In planning the lobbying campaign, Hall coordinated with the State Board of Elections staff on tactics and information. Although the actual planning of the legislative campaign began in earnest in January 2012, the public campaign and coordination started in 2011, as seen in this AP article . The article was attached to an email from a vendor sent to the State Controller’s Office, from which it was enthusiastically forwarded to the SBE. The article gives SBE Executive Director Gary Bartlett and lobbyist Hall a platform to push the story that the state-passed budget may cause an election “train wreck,” in the words of Hall.
A January 5, 2012 email from Neil Baddour of the SBE staff gave information to Bartlett, which he forwarded to Hall on Saturday, January 14, 2012. Fifty-six minutes later the real effort got under way when Hall sent a “confidential” email and attached strategy memo to Bartlett, which Bartlett forwarded on January 17 to SBE Deputy Director Johnnie McLean. What was the memo that was attached? It was the game plan from Hall for trying to get the legislature to spend an extra $660,000, and the political strategy for attacking Republicans in the media. The very same day McLean responded via email directly to Hall saying: “We have reviewed your document and identified a few changes you may want to make.”
We know that at least two SBE employees (Bartlett and McLean) reviewed the memo and it is likely that others also contributed to the edited memo attached. For state employees to conduct partisan political work on state time and equipment is a clear violation of the law (NCGS 126.13). To have state employees do it at the behest and direction of a lobbyist is even worse.
The memo itself contains two direct partisan mentions, one complimenting the 2008 Democratic-controlled legislature and the other critical of the Republican leaders in the current General Assembly. And to make it clear that staff had no doubt that this was a partisan effort; the memo itself contained strategy language at the bottom of the memo that includes the following partisan strategy items:
- Media/Editorials: … exposes the selfish partisan agenda of Republicans; fits into the larger story of voter suppression, etc.
- We win even if we lose: Even if we don’t get the money, this fight hits the GOP where they are most vulnerable to voter anger over appearing to suppress voting; it will help with the ID fight.
Hall’s involvement with governmental agencies does not stop with the SBE. He forwarded an email (from Director Bartlett to Rep. David Lewis) on November 15, 2011 to Amy Bason, General Counsel to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC), to enlist their help to “release the funds.” In the email to Bason, Hall says he gained access to the forwarded email through a public records request. But Civitas has found no evidence of any public records requests made by Hall to the SBE for emails from Lewis specifically or legislators in general. It appears that Bartlett just forwards his email from legislators to a lobbyist for their review and use.
So to summarize, lobbyist Bob Hall and SBE Director Gary Bartlett conspired on a strategy to boost funding for Bartlett’s agency and directly attack the Republican legislature. All of this was done at the direction of Hall with SBE staff assistance and with Bartlett the conduit. The legislative fight over the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) funds actually happened later in 2012 after the legislature convened in May.
The HAVA fight played out as the budget was being crafted, Hall led the attack and the SBE played a supporting role. In the end, fortunately, sound budgeting won the day and despite the gloomy predictions of Hall and his allies the 2012 election went smoothly without the additional money.
The collaboration between Hall and the SBE raises serious questions about who really runs North Carolina’s election system: Officials representing the people, or unelected liberal special-interest lobbyists working out of the public’s sight?