By now you may have heard about the letter Civitas received from a law firm on behalf of the NC NAACP. As part of its lawsuit against North Carolina’s new voter ID law they sent us a notice letter that they may want to ransack our files and read our “diaries.”
We at Civitas have come to realize that when liberals accuse conservatives of doing something it is usually because they have actually done it themselves! In the case of elections we have a lot of evidence that liberals groups, including the NAACP, had behind the scenes input and influence that changed our laws. Some of their actions we believe were illegal and we have (with no results) asked the appropriate agencies to investigate.
Seeing as William Barber and the NAACP are so concerned about Civitas’ input on election reform, we thought it appropriate to rerun our series on the NC State Board of Elections (SBOE) and liberal lobbyist Bob Hall of Democracy NC. Liberal lobbyist Hall is someone who truly does have undue and hidden influence on elections in North Carolina. He has spent many years shaping our election legislation, policies and state bureaucracy into the nations most liberal and confusing collection of election laws and decisions.
After reading the series you too may ask the same questions we did. How did this happen? Why doesn’t someone do something? And now a third question, Did Barber and the NCNAACP have their lawyers send the same letter they sent to Civitas to Bob Hall and DemocracyNC?
From our 5,000+ emails, the evidence shows Hall is much more involved in election law than anyone else in the state. In fact, many of the emails show a direct link between William Barber/NCNAACP and Democracy NC using their connections to influence law and policy behind the scenes.
The following is part 1 of the series, originally published December 11, 2012. In this we explain how we obtained the evidence and what it initially showed.
In Part 2 of our series, originally published December 14, 2012, we detail how Bob Hall and Gary Bartlett, the former director of the SBOE, conspired to use state employees and resources to launch a partisan attack on the Republican legislature.
In part 3 of our series, originally published on Feb 19, 2013, we show how the bureaucrats at the SBOE worked with representatives of the Obama campaign to allow on-line voter registration in violation of existing state law. This was facilitated in large part by the board attorney, Don Wright, who is still employed as the board attorney today.
Supporters of public campaign financing have long claimed that it would never have a partisan slant. But the latest Civitas investigation has found how one liberal activist has taken control of the process.
In the first article of this series, we revealed the disturbing relationship Bob Hall, a liberal lobbyist for Democracy NC, has with the State Board of Elections (SBOE), which makes decisions affecting North Carolina’s electoral process. Democracy NC is the ultra-liberal non-profit that was one of Blueprint NC’s founding members. Blueprint NC is the organization in the center of a recent scandal of a leaked memo that revealed how liberal groups have been targeting the Governor and the Republican leaders in the legislature. The second article of the series brought to light overwhelming evidence proving Hall is a behind-the-scenes driving force at the SBOE and in 2012 coordinated with the SBOE to attack the Republicans in the legislature over a budget issue. Now we turn our attention to the involvement of Hall and left-wing groups in public campaign financing.
With hundreds of emails as evidence, we can illustrate the extent to which the SBOE staff has, for years, surrendered their official duties to Bob Hall, head of the liberal advocacy group Democracy NC. In combing through more than 5,000 emails to and from the SBOE and Hall, it is evident that Hall controlled and directed the North Carolina Public Campaign Fund Program (NCPCF), the vehicle for public campaign financing in the Tar Heel State.
Bob Hall’s own words will say it best. Here is an excerpt from a recommendation letter dated September 27, 2004 and written by Hall for SBOE Executive Director Gary Bartlett’s signature. The recommendation was for a grant from the Deer Creek Foundation to go to Democracy NC:
Democracy North Carolina has been involved from the beginning in the legislation that led to the state’s pioneering judicial public financing program, and they have been involved in every step of the new law’s implementation, from the appointment of the Public Campaign Fund’s Advisory Council to the promotion of the $3 check-off that is the chief source of the program’s funding.
Most recently, Democracy North Carolina led the effort to make sure the State Board could produce and widely distribute a Judicial Voter Guide, even though the program faced a severe budget shortfall.
This is so brazen it has to be underlined: Hall ghost-wrote a letter to be signed by NC’s top election official, seeking money for Hall’s own group. Plus, the recommendation might be considered a confession to the outsized role Hall and Democracy NC play in what is supposed to be an influence-free elections process.
Seeing that Bob Hall and Democracy NC enjoy full access to all the resources provided by the SBOE (IT, legal, administrative, and data), a comment in Bartlett’s letter – “Your support of their work will help all of us in North Carolina” – gives us a view of the twisted relationship between a supposedly nonpartisan board and a liberal activist. And the above is just one of a host of emails in a similar vein.
As in the mystery story about the dog that didn’t bark, an equally important fact is the lack of other voices. It is interesting to note that an Advisory Council was statutorily created to implement and support the NCPCF. According to the 2012 SBOE Campaign Finance Manual, “its primary function is to advise the State Board of Elections on the rules, procedures and opinions adopted for administration and enforcement of the Program. The State Board of Elections will also be advised of funding needs of the Program by the Advisory Council.” But, according to the SBOE, the Advisory Council members did not meet after the initial setup in 2003 — the year the program was implemented. It shouldn’t be surprising though: After reading these emails, it seems plain the SBOE thought there is little need for any opinion other than that of Bob Hall.
The Roots of the Problem
Legislation was passed in 2002 to establish North Carolina’s Public Campaign Fund for candidates for the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court. In 2007, the General Assembly passed legislation that launched a pilot public financing fund for candidates for State Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Commissioner of Insurance.
While the SBOE likes to say that the North Carolina Public Campaign Fund is not funded by the General Fund of North Carolina, that claim gives many voters a misleading impression. Indeed, in 2007 the General Assembly appropriated more than $4.5 million in taxpayer dollars to establish the public campaign finance system for Council of State offices. The largest source of revenue still comes out of taxpayers’ wallets — from designations to the Public Campaign Fund by taxpayers through a positive check-off of three dollars on an individual’s income tax form. The check-off redirects tax dollars to the campaign fund instead of the General Fund. Moreover, the public financing for judicial races were promised to be financed by voluntary contributions, but by 2004 the legislature decided to divert taxpayer funds from the state budget into the system, and in 2006 the previously optional attorney fee contribution was converted to a mandatory one. Most lawyers did not even believe in the system sold as a way to protect the integrity of the courts.
Proponents of public campaign financing believe that it will reduce the influence of special interest money. Opponents believe that public funding of campaigns infringes on free speech and forces taxpayers to “contribute” to candidates they do not support. Opponents also see a real danger in giving government so much control of political speech. After all, who will make those delicate decisions that could easily be construed as partisan?
The Voter Guide
Sadly, a key document meant to provide unbiased information to voters is also compromised by Bob Hall’s excessive involvement.
In addition to funds, both programs include the distribution of a Voter Guide just before the onset of One-Stop Voting. According to the SBE Campaign Manual, the guide explains the purpose of the Public Campaign Fund along with an explanation of the functions of the appellate courts, the method and laws for the election of appellate judges, and information on all candidates for the North Carolina Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court. And, since the Council of State candidates have been added, it provides information on all candidates who have filed for State Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Commissioner of Insurance and explains the functions of each office.
The Voter Guide is an important publication, in that it is in effect a very expensive campaign ad. The mailing goes directly to every voting household in the state. In 2012, 4,200,000 copies of the voter guide were produced and mailed at taxpayer expense. Through public records we received, we see that Hall has played the lead role in the editing, production and printing of the guides. He has written, designed, produced and managed the printing and mailing of the voter guide from start to finish.
On September 15, 2004, in the first of almost 600 emails dealing with the voter guide that year, Hall sent Bartlett his final design and language for the 2004 General Election Voter Guide. That year, the first for public financing and voter guides, the state mailed 3.9 million guides at a cost of $498,000.
But the most alarming email was sent March 10, 2008 from Bob Hall to Don Wright, General Counsel for the SBOE. This email proved what every opponent of the public campaign financing knows: public funding of campaigns cannot be managed in a fair and non-partisan way. Though the candidates’ personal statements are supposed to be their own unvarnished words, Hall edited the content of two candidates’ personal statements.
Page 7: Kristin Ruth – Legal/Judicial Experience: I think it’s a problem to keep in “decide thousands of cases a year, recognized nationally as an authority on child support enforcement; frequent speaker on child support issues.” This will encourage others to add all sorts of stuff to their career list.
Page 10: Wayne Goodwin – Education: He lists Governor’s School West, Institute for Political Leadership, and Center for Creative Leadership, but these are just leadership seminars and programs, not degree programs. It’s a mess to include every seminar or workshop somebody wants to feature. Also, you can save space under his Endorsements by abbreviating Representative to Rep. in three cases and also abbreviate the Executive Director titles.
Remember, these are supposed to be the candidates’ own words. And Hall’s casual manner makes it seem as if he is accustomed to making changes in the Guide. That in turns brings up the question: What other changes did he make?
After a few years of doing pro bono work on the SBOE’s voter guide, Hall even suggested that the SBOE contract this project out to a third party – perhaps even his organization. In an email exchange between Gary Bartlett and Don Wright on August 10, 2009, Wright wanted to know if Bartlett was serious about contracting it out to a third party “that may include Bob and associates.” In his response, Bartlett said, “I’m having discussions with Bob and Dameon. As soon as I hear them out, we’ll talk.” It’s fair to assume that “Dameon” was Damon Circosta, at the time the Director of NC Center for Voter Education, another Blueprint NC member. (Circosta has since gone to work for the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which is funded and controlled by the Goodmon family, which owns WRAL-TV). Circosta was involved with many of the voter guide emails, along with other liberal activists, such as Bob Phillips of Common Cause (Blueprint NC member) and Chase Foster, former Director of NC Voters for Clean Elections (NCVCE), also linked to Blueprint. These men appear to have considerable input into NCPCF and voter guides, given that many of their emails are forwarded through Bob Hall or sent directly to Gary Bartlett. To illustrate the incestuous nature of these Blueprint NC organizations, Bob Hall and Bob Phillips are both members of the NCVCE board.
While we have no evidence the SBOE officially contracted this “project” out to a third party — why should they? They had Bob Hall. To summarize, in the nearly 1,000 emails discussing NCPCF and/or Voter Guides we read about all aspects of the voter guide production process and continuous promotion of NCPCF – and Bob Hall was part of all of it. He has been working with the SBOE and the legislature as far back as 2003 to design, create, implement and sustain North Carolina’s public campaign funding, including municipal pilot programs. His actions included discussions with and about legislators, department Secretaries, public vendors, SBOE staff and a myriad of left-wing organizations. It is evident that Bob Hall will stop at nothing to further his agenda, including acting as a censor when it comes to free speech, and the past SBOE was happy to help.
At this time we have a request in for the most current emails involving the SBOE and Bob Hall so we do not know the extent, if any, of Bob Hall’s involvement with the 2012 voter guide. If history is any example, it will probably be extensive.
The new SBOE and director need to address these very serious problems. There are, however, additional questions. First, while sweeping changes are being made to personnel at the SBOE, including board members and staff, it is safe to assume Bob Hall has not yet received his pink slip – will this change?
Second, can any public campaign finance law be completely objective? This case shows how vulnerable such processes are to behind-the-scenes manipulation. We have shed some light on what happens here, but this investigation is just one of our projects studying North Carolina’s flawed elections system.
Third, nonprofits such as Democracy NC and Blueprint NC have counterparts and allies across the nation. What have those groups been up to in North Carolina and other states?
Note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the voting guide is for only the candidates who participate in the public financing program, and that candidates that choose not to participate are not mentioned in the Voters Guide. We regret the error.