Mask ban resurfaces with unrelated campaign finance reforms

Republicans abruptly returned mask-restricting legislation to the legislative agenda on Thursday with a last-minute addition unrelated to the core of the bill. 

Intended to restrict the wearing of face masks in public to hide a criminal’s identity, the masking bill failed to garner support among House Republicans weeks ago due to the removal of the medical exemption. The legislation was brought back to the House and Senate last week with a modification to allow medical or surgical-grade masks to specifically prevent the spread of contagious diseases.  

Notably, the new draft also includes a provision to change campaign finance laws. The language doesn’t change candidate contribution limits, which are capped at $6,400. Party committees have been the exception because they are able to receive unlimited contributions, enabling wealthy donors to contribute as much as they want to elections through state party committees. A familiar example is George Soros’s $250,000 donation to the Democratic Executive Leadership Committee in 2020. Another example was when former presidential candidate and billionaire Michael Bloomberg donated $1 million to the North Carolina Democratic Party. 

While the bill does not modify how much money candidate committees or political parties may receive, it does modify how federal campaign committees and national political party committees (527 committees) may operate in the state. At the heart of these changes are national governors and attorneys general associations for both parties. Speaking to the press, Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, emphasized this bill as “a way to level the playing field in terms of money,” specifically referencing the national party organizations.  

Berger stated that the current interpretation of the law from the North Carolina State Board of Elections highly favors Democratic organizations over their Republican counterparts. In a post on X, Brent Woodcox, a senior advisor to Berger, clarified that the language is mostly about campaign finance accounting procedures.

Two unlimited contribution funds—the Governor’s Association and the Attorney General’s Association—would be able to contribute directly to campaigns to state political parties, so long as the money is not directly given from a donor to the campaign or candidate.

The Democratic Governors Association already has its committees organized under multiple accounts, allowing them to receive unlimited funds from donors and corporations in one account while still being able to give directly to party committees with other accounts.

Sharp criticism echoed from outside the legislative building however, on account of the changes not going through the normal legislative process.  

“How it came forward is concerning because the language of this has never been seen before, and it’s moving directly from a conference report,” said Jim Stirling, a research fellow at the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Lock Foundation. “This means there can be no amendment to the bill from the floor, and it hasn’t gone through committee. This new provision bypasses the normal legislative process, leading to confusion and speculations on the intent and reach of the bill. This is not how this policy change should have moved forward.” 

The North Carolina State Board of Elections quickly issued a memo on the impacts of the legislation. Under their interpretation, the bill “would permit a federal political committee or 527 political organization to make contributions to political party executive committees and affiliated party committees from an account that received unlimited contributions from individuals.” This would include Super PACs and federal independent expenditure committees. 

“This change to federal committees could incentivize state-level independent expenditure committees to simply file with the FEC,” says Stirling.  “By doing so, independent expenditure groups would have the flexibility to either advocate for or against candidates through their normal independent expenditures or provide funding directly to political executive committees.” 

Because it’s a conference report, no modification can be made to the legislation from the floor. If passed into law, the bill could change campaign finance rules during the middle of an election year with major seats up for grabs, including governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.  

While Berger said the bill is intended to make it equal for both parties, Democrats view it as changing the rules during an election year. Senate Democrats walked out ahead of Thursday’s vote, which passed with all Republicans in attendance supporting the bill. House action on the bill is expected to take place on Tuesday.

Jim Stirling of the John Locke Foundation researched and assisted with the background information for this article.

The post Mask ban resurfaces with unrelated campaign finance reforms first appeared on Carolina Journal.


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