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McCrory’s proposal to end a taxpayer political funding program would hurt Democrats

By Rob Christensen
rchristensen@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is proposing to do away with a volunteer taxpayer check-off program that helps subsidize the political parties, a move more likely to harm the Democrats than the GOP.

The governor’s budget recommends ending a post-Watergate reform that permits Tar Heel taxpayers to check a box on their individual tax forms to give $3 to a fund that finances political parties in the state.

During 2011-2012, the state check-off funds distributed $1.8 million to the state Democratic Party, $1.1 million to the state Republican Party, and $122,541 to the Libertarian Party, according to the State Board of Elections.

Most of the check-off programs around the country were started in the 1970s after the Watergate scandals as a way to reduce the amount of special-interest money financing campaigns. North Carolina passed its law in 1977. At first, taxpayers could designate which party would receive their money. But since 1983, the money has been allocated on the basis of party registration, a formula that helps the Democrats.

Of North Carolina’s 6.4 million registered voters, 43 percent are Democrats, 31 percent are Republicans, and less than 1 percent are Libertarians.

The check-off neither increases the tax owed nor decreases the taxpayer’s refund.

The move to end the check-off has been the long-time goal of McCrory’s budget director, Art Pope, an influential figure in GOP circles. As a legislator in 1989, he unsuccessfully co-sponsored a bill to repeal the check-off.

“Party registration doesn’t reflect voting strength,” Pope was quoted as saying at the time in North Carolina Insight Magazine. “Most people don’t realize that this is how the funds are being split.”

Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political science professor, said the current distribution formula does tend to favor the Democratic Party because some of the registered Democrats are actually Republicans in how they vote.

The Democratic Party is opposed to ending the funding, while the Republican Party says it will go along with whatever the governor and the legislature decides.

State Democratic Chairman Randy Voller called the measure “political gamesmanship” and compared it with other GOP efforts to harm Democrats such as curtailing early voting.

“They see this as a strategic move to hurt the Democratic Party and also cut off any money to Libertarians who have actually put forward some reasonably good candidates over the election cycles,” Voller said. “I’m sure they’d like to cut off their funding, too.

“… They think that because … they are in control, they can get transactional political donors to send money to the party.”

Mike Rusher, the state Republican Party’s chief of staff, said he was fine with whatever the legislature decided.

“We feel confident that the General Assembly is going to make the best decision in determining the best use of taxpayer money,” Rusher said. “We don’t live or die by the tax check-off money that comes in. In moving forward we are extremely confident in our fundraising capabilities.”

Bitzer said the check-off funding would tend to hurt the Democrats, especially since they are still trying to recover from major losses in 2012. But he said last year more than $100 million was raised for political campaigns in North Carolina and the check-off money was about 1 percent of that total.

“It’s hard to imagine that the parties will truly suffer over this,” Bitzer said.

Christensen: 919-829-4532
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