Our View: Following campaign money
The news out of Florida this week surrounding sweepstakes business owner Chase Burns of Oklahoma is looking pretty ugly. Nearly 60 people have been arrested there on fraud charges and dozens of sweepstakes businesses have been closed by law enforcement in what is being described by authorities as a gambling operation disguised as a charitable operation to raise money for military veterans causes.
Even Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a retired veteran of the Persian Gulf War, has resigned because she and her public relations firm had done promotional work for Allied Veterans of the World, the St. Augustine-based company connected with Burns and his International Internet Technologies company.
Florida officials also say that they are now looking into political campaign donations to Florida politicians that might be connected to Burns and his business. In North Carolina, the nonpartisan campaign advocacy group Democracy North Carolina already has looked into donations by Burns and his wife to legislative candidates in last year’s General Assembly races and the N.C. governor’s race — and the findings are an interesting lesson in political gamesmanship. North Carolina leaders have been debating the on-again, off-again legality of sweepstakes operations in the state for the past few years.
Democracy North Carolina, which is headed by Bob Hall, found that Burns and his wife donated during the past two-year election cycle a total of $235,500 to the campaigns of 67 legislative candidates, Gov. Pat McCrory, the N.C. Republican House Caucus and the N.C. Republican Senate Caucus.
The list included donations to legislators from this area — Republicans Sen. Phil Berger ($8,000), who is Senate president pro tem, Sen. Jerry Tillman ($4,000) and Rep. Jerry Dockham ($2,500) and Democrats Sen. Gladys Robinson ($1,000) and Rep. Alma Adams ($1,000).
According to Democracy North Carolina, 24 Democratic and 43 Republican candidates for the General Assembly received donations ranging from $1,000 to $8,000 (the maximum for donations from two people). Four of them — three Democrats and one Republican — who each received $1,000, lost their races. Fortunately, it seems from Hall’s group’s research that only one questionable donation was made, a $2,500 check attributed to International Internet Technologies. Donations from businesses to campaigns are illegal.
The pattern of donations shows how someone involved with controversial legislative matters plays the field with contributions to members of both parties. Burns knew that donations buy name recognition and access for the donor, and it helps to be known by those in both parties.
But with the GOP in control of the Legislature and expected to retain that control, Burns picked GOP caucuses to support and also the front-runner for governor, McCrory. He also funded leaders of both political parties at higher amounts than rank-and-file members. That’s the way the money flows in politics.
Gov. McCrory has said his campaign will donate the $8,000 he received to charity. Some of the others who received money from Burns have said that, too. Such donations would be good gestures by any candidate who still has campaign money left.