A seemingly innocuous change to a bill late last week could have far reaching effects if it is approved by the NC House today.
Last year, two candidates for office, Bob Crumley for Attorney General and Bill Faison for NC House (and coincidentally, both lawyers), ran television advertising for their respective legal firms in which they both appeared on camera pitching the benefits of hiring their firm. Both candidates were featured prominently in the ads. A copy of Crumley’s ad and corresponding questions regarding the legality of the ads are in a Greensboro News and Record story here. The question was raised, if known candidates are appearing in TV ads, but aren’t mention as candidates, then where is the line between legitimate advertising for a company and attempting to subvert campaign laws by using corporate dollars to run television ads?
The State Board of Elections (SBOE) ruled that these ads constituted campaign speech and could not be run.
A bill (H1111) passed last Friday by the NC Senate during its flurry of activity to wrap up session would completely change this ruling.
It would re-write the electioneering communication and candidate specific communication statutes to exempt ads such as these so long as they didn’t mention the candidacy, party or election in which the candidate is running, and the ad proposes a commercial transaction.
The loophole this creates is big enough to drive a Mack truck through. If this bill is enacted, any candidate could simply appear in his/her business’ television advertising at any time during a campaign. The possibilities to exploit this new loophole are limitless — lawyers, insurance agents, car dealership owners or any business owner could spend an unlimited amount of corporate dollars (which wouldn’t be disclosed) on running “ads” for their business, but were nothing more than commercials designed to improve their name identification.
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see an individual form a corporation solely for this purposes. What would stop a candidate from forming his or her own “consulting” firm and spending unlimited dollars running ads promoting themselves and his/her business acumen at lowering costs, hiring more workers and helping businesses streamline operations. The answer, under this new proposed law, nothing, as long as they solicited business and didn’t mention they were a candidate for office or the upcoming election.
We’ll see later today if the House notices this new interpretation when the bill comes up for concurrence.