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Millions in campaign money flows into local Senate race from a fire hose
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Millions in campaign money flows into local Senate race from a fire hose

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Day after day, week after interminable week, the mailbox — a sad, small rectangular secured by a tiny key in a glass wall of similar containers — has been filled to overflowing with election-related material.

Voter guides, expensive glossy 8 1/2-by-11 mailers and budget postcards. Doubles and triples of the same mailers added to the bulk.

Some, according to the legally required taglines on the back, had been paid for by candidates and their campaigns. Others were financed by political parties or outside interest groups.

“I’m not sure who they think they’re going to convince at this point,” an older gentleman muttered to no one in particular as he stood last week in a communal mailroom. “What an absolute waste.”

The man didn’t read a single one; he barely paused to see who’d sent them. One by one they got tossed into a 55-gallon garbage can set up for that express purpose.

Why bother? A significant number of the mailings — they’re not cheap — were hateful and deceitful, grossly out of context mutations designed to appeal to those who don’t read or think.

The good news is that it’s nearly over. The voting anyway.

Spending millions

Flip on a TV, to any channel, and the barrage is continuous. Overwhelmed viewers can’t watch reruns of the Simpsons or a simple football game without an aerial bombardment.

Text messages, social media, even your e-mail account is under assault. Nothing is off limits or not for sale to politicos willing to pay.

It’s a big downside of living in (or near) competitive districts in swing states.

The big races — for president, governor and a seat in the U.S. Senate — are always going to omnipresent. We all knew we’d be overwhelmed by those.

But the “little” ones, races for seats in both houses of the N.C. General Assembly, who knew that Krawiec or LeGrand would be household names?

And who knew that a campaign for a single seat in the Legislature could wind up costing millions?

One in particular, that Senate 31 race pitting Republican incumbent Joyce Krawiec against Democratic challenger Terri LeGrand, has been especially odious. And will likely will be the most expensive in the state.

According to campaign finance reports, as of Oct. 17 — the third quarter and the most recent filing period available — LeGrand had total campaign receipts of $1.94 million, with $945,381 from Democratic party committees.

Krawiec reported in that same period total receipts of $1.2 million with $910,151 from Republican party committees.

To run for a job that pays $13,951 a year with a $104 per diem for each day the Legislature is in session.

As campaigns go, financial reports that closed Oct. 17 might as well have been written in mammoth blood on the wall of a cave. A truer tale will be told when the updated forms through the end of the year are posted online by the state Board of Elections.

Even then, that reporting will only reflect campaigns with the candidates’ names on them. More money is being tossed around by the state political parties, super PACS and single issue “educational” groups propped up by untraceable, unlimited dark money.

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Still, if you’ve the time (and inclination) to look, there are clues as to how much this one race might wind up costing.

So-called 48 Hour reports — snapshots of last minute cash injections — started showing up online in the last few days of October.

LeGrand, the Democratic challenger, reported Oct. 26 that the N.C. Democratic Party Senate Caucus had dropped a cool $65,000 into her campaign on top of the $500,000 it shipped over days earlier. That brought her total haul to $1.54 million.

Don’t feel badly for Krawiec, though. In the required 48 Hour documents, her campaign reported last week donations from the state GOP’s N.C. Senate Majority Fund of $324,770. Her total haul was about $1.2 million through Oct. 26.

And remember, that’s just one race and those 48 Hour numbers are just from two party committees. Only an army of CPAs with an unlimited supply of ADHD medicine and a month of free time could come up with an accurate accounting.

Money in politics is like water in an old house. It comes in through every imaginable crack and crevice; campaign cash flows through an array of committees before it reaches a final destination.

It’s obscene.

Buying power

The reason behind the free flow of campaign cash is easy enough to decipher: raw power.

Because this is a year that ends in a zero, the party that wins control of the General Assembly gets to hold the pen while drawing legislative and Congressional districts.

Except that nobody uses pens (or paper maps) these days. The party in control will use computers that can mine voting trends (and party registrations) down to the level of a single city block.

Most of the 170 legislative seats (50 in the Senate, 120 in the House) are intentionally tilted to favor one party or other; 97 favor either the Republican or Democrat by 10 percentage points.

According to the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation, only 33 seats are competitive with party registrations within 5 percentage points. Republicans hold a 29-21 advantage in the Senate and a 65-55 edge in the House.

That means control likely comes down to flipping five seats in the Senate. Ergo, the fire hose of campaign cash raining down on LeGrand and Krawiec.

It’s obscene. But there are solutions.

The state Legislature could establish an independent redistricting commission to draw districts every 10 years. Ten states have done so.

Congress, if it had the will, could mandate publicly financed elections. No more unlimited dark money from anonymous donors or groups corrupting the process.

Finally, the Legislature and the Congress could establish term limits. Neither job should be for life. Make it like prison; serve your time and get out.

No pensions at the end, and the honorables can only get the skimpiest 80-20 health plan available to everyone else.

None of that is likely, not with politicians having access to hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from God knows where to run 24/7 campaigns.

It’s just a thought. And there is a sliver of good news in all this: voting ends today.

The nonstop TV commercials and endless mountain of campaign mailers will cease arriving. Even as the (likely) lawsuits over the vote counts begin.

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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