Sept. 19, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Francis De Luca (919) 834-2099 Francis.DeLuca@nccivitas.org
RALEIGH – Civitas President Francis De Luca today filed a complaint with the Lobbying Compliance Division of the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State against an out-of-state group and a coalition of groups that have apparently violated North Carolina lobbying laws.
“The people of North Carolina deserve to know who is trying to influence elections and legislation in our state,” De Luca said. “Our most recent investigation indicates that two out-of-state groups apparently have been trying to conceal their funding of an ad campaign launched against six NC legislators and against legislation supporting energy development. We are filing a complaint today because we believe one group has been lobbying here, but has failed to register as a lobbying organization.”
This year, TV ads have been aired and mailers sent attacking hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and incumbent NC state legislators. These ads indicate they had been “paid for” by the North Carolina Environmental Partnership (NCEP). A Civitas investigation showed that the NCEP is a shell group used to hide the identities of the real sponsors: the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), based in New York, and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), headquartered in Charlottesville, Va.
The NCEP has no legal status in NC and has never registered with any of the required agencies of government to establish a legal existence. In short, the anti-fracking ads are claiming to be paid for by a group that doesn’t exist.
The SELC, which is registered to lobby in North Carolina, reported to the Lobbying Compliance Division of the NC secretary of state that it had paid $102,284.52 to Devine, Mulvey, Longabaugh, Inc., a liberal media consultant group based in Washington, D.C. SELC described the expenditure as “production and placement of TV ads” and indicated that the payment had been made March 20. In the SELC’s report to the state elections board, it reported an expenditure on March 20 to the same payee as in the lobbying report, but it listed the amount as $34,094.84 – exactly one-third of the $102,284.52 amount reported to the secretary of state. Moreover, on March 20, the NRDC appears to claim the very same expenditure in its initial SBOE reports.
Anyone paying for advertisements that seek to influence legislation or legislative action in North Carolina must register as a lobbyist. By filing with the secretary of state (§ 120C-100 (13)) and the SBOE, the SELC admitted the ads were attempting to not only influence an election but also to influence legislation.
But the NRDC is not registered to lobby in North Carolina and does not file reports with the Lobbying Compliance Division of the NC secretary of state. So by claiming it paid for the same ads the SELC admitted were lobbying efforts, the NRDC was in violation of the law. Not surprisingly, as NCEP appears to be merely a name, the NCEP has not registered as a lobbyist principal.
That failure to register as lobbyists is the core of Civitas’ complaint filed today with the Secretary of State.
Also on Thursday, Civitas asked the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBOE) to investigate all three groups for possible violations of state campaign financing laws.
“The NRDC and the SELC wanted to influence North Carolina, but it looks as if they wanted to present a ‘down-home’ appearance to voters,” De Luca said. “In doing so, however, it seems they have run afoul of North Carolina campaign financing laws and also FCC regulations. And, in our opinion, the NRDC and NCEP failed to follow lobbying rules. We urge the State Board of Elections and the Secretary of State to pursue an investigation with vigor.
“Moreover, we are continuing our inquiry into the tangled finances and connections behind this effort to influence North Carolina voters and legislators,” De Luca added.
Civitas Elections Analyst Susan Myrick details our investigation here.
The Civitas Institute is a policy institute based in Raleigh, N.C. More information is available at www.nccivitas.org, or contact Jim Tynen at (919) 834-2099 or firstname.lastname@example.org.