By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
September 1, 2023
A campaign finance watchdog released a stunning report this week showing that North Carolina’s legislators have received $530,000 in campaign contributions tied to gambling and marijuana interests during the first six months of 2023 — the same months the legislators were debating those very issues.
The 14-page report from veteran watchdog Bob Hall says that “while state legislators debated legalizing various forms of gambling and marijuana use” this year, their campaign coffers were growing.
Incredibly, more than half of the $530,000 came from individuals who had never given to a North Carolina legislator before 2022.
“Suddenly, they’re writing checks for $2,000 or $5,000 to a legislator,” Hall said. “It looks like a lobbyist or somebody told them that this is a pay-to-play state — you need to put in the money if you want your bill passed this year or next.”
The biggest recipients in the report are all Republicans, according to the report: Rep. Jason Saine ($42,200 from gambling and marijuana-related donors), Sen. Brent Jackson ($34,800), Rep. John Bell ($29,000), Sen. Jim Perry ($25,100), Sen. Bill Rabon ($23,400) and Rep. Destin Hall ($16,200).
The top Democratic recipient was House minority leader Rep. Robert Reives, who “received a bundle of nine donations on the same day totaling $8,100 from donors with the recently revived NC Coin Operators Association, a trade group for video poker vendors,” the report said.
North Carolina legislators this year debated medical marijuana, passed sports gambling legislation and next week Republicans are expected to debate in caucus a major expansion of casinos throughout the state.
Some of the $530,000 came from donors “sanctioned in the past for illegal gambling and drug operations,” the report said. A dozen donors in the report had “been arrested for illegal slot machines, fined $1 million for bribes, described by state regulators as ‘not persons of good character,’ or forced to destroy $1 million worth of illegally produced drugs,” the report said.
“It’s hard to understand why legislative leaders would want to help these shady characters, particularly in the gambling industry, until you see all the money they give politicians,” Hall said.
The report found that:
— 38 gambling-related businesses and associations, including 29 based outside North Carolina, are paying 71 different lobbyists to “promote their agenda this year.”
— 13 pro-marijuana firms and groups have registered 29 lobbyists.
Hall believes the $530,000 could be just the tip of the iceberg.
“There are so many wealthy interests involved in this all-out push for legalization, and so many secretive ways to move political money, I’m just showing you a slice here – and this just covers a six-month period,” he said. “They’re raising more money every day.”
Although North Carolina law prohibits lobbyists from “giving or delivering contributions to a legislator,” it’s not illegal for “someone who hires a lobbyist to donate to legislators while they are deciding how to vote on a bill promoted by the lobbyist,” the report noted.
“People might call that bribery, but the U.S. Supreme Court says the donation is a form of free speech,” Hall said.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League said that the Supreme Court might call it free speech but they’ve been wrong before. “If it looks like bribery, and it walks like bribery, and it talks like bribery, then that’s probably what it is – bribery!”
Rev. Creech added, “I’m glad this is out in the open for everyone to see. Our state is indebted to the amazing work of Bob Hall for this report. In the face of the staggering influence of these campaign contributions tied to gambling and marijuana interests, it becomes abundantly clear that we must amplify the voice of the righteous. The Christian Action League stands firmly against these initiatives, knowing the true power lies with the citizens of this state who reject the expansion of these vices. However, there must be more engagement, there must be a greater resolve, there must be more pastors willing to speak out, there must be more collective praying and determination by God’s people to safeguard our communities and preserve biblical values.”