NC lawmakers indulge in pre-session ritual: the fundraiser

North Carolina’s Republican and Democratic lawmakers planned to take part in what’s become a Raleigh ritual Tuesday night – the pre-session fundraisers.

Republican House members were gathering in a downtown restaurant, GOP senators in a private home. House Democrats planned to convene in a downtown office building and senators in a nearby wine shop.

Joining them all was the usual cohort of lobbyists and representatives of political action committees, many making a circuit between events.

Once the short session begins at noon Wednesday, lawmakers can no longer take PAC contributions. (They can never take them from lobbyists.)

The fundraisers will fill coffers for this fall’s general elections, with both sides looking to maximize their financial leverage.

Already Tuesday one group boasted a record take.

Josh Thomas, director of the House Republican Caucus, said the caucus is sitting on a $1 million war chest – the earliest it’s ever reached that milestone.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever had it this early in the election cycle,” Thomas said. “It really is a show of unity among our members.”

The $1 million represents a significant boost since April. At the end of March, the caucus reported $679,000 in the bank.

House Democrats, by contrast, have about $430,000 on hand, according to caucus director Casey Wilkinson.

All the money is likely to be targeted to the handful of competitive House races. Thomas estimates those will be in five to 10 of the 170 House districts.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have a war chest of almost $375 million, almost four times bigger than that of their Democratic counterparts. They have about $100 million.

Jane Pinsky, director of the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said she can live with the fundraisers. But she doesn’t want to have to wait until the next reports are due in July to see who’s influencing legislators in a session that could be over by then.

“My coalition does not have an opinion on the amount of money in the game, but we do think it all needs to be disclosed,” she said. “And if they’re going to take money (Tuesday night) they should disclose it before the session starts (Wednesday).

“I can make airline reservations on my phone. I can print airline tickets on my phone. There’s no reason why they couldn’t disclose … from whom they are accepting money tonight, or at least from whom they are accepting large contributions.”

The law banning legislators from accepting money from PACs and lobbyists during session won’t apply to one Mecklenburg County lawmaker.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Huntersville, can accept lobbyists’ money for his U.S. Senate campaign. Federal law doesn’t ban such contributions.

Because Tillis has pledged to keep his job as speaker this session, critics say it opens the possibility for potential conflicts of interest.