Campaign finance eyed – Reynolds launches study

WINSTON-SALEM — Reforming the financing of political campaigns for state office is the goal of an emerging initiative of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

For the past year, the foundation has examined campaign finance reform efforts in North Carolina and in other states. It also approved a grant of up to $537,000 for the newly formed N.C. Center for Voter Education in Raleigh that is headed by Chris Heagarty, former director of state government relations for the N.C. Association of Electric Cooperatives.

On March 29, the foundation will sponsor a forum to educate roughly 300 participants about trends in campaign finance reform, along with possible solutions.

Journalist Bill Moyers will be the keynote speaker at the invitation-only event, which probably will be held in Raleigh and also will feature James Exum, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.

The foundation also is considering buying media time and holding a series of forums throughout the state to publicize the issue of campaign finance reform.

Joe Kilpatrick, the foundation’s assistant director, said political candidates and incumbents increasingly are frustrated about the rising cost of running for office, while donors “are now reaching a point of dissatisfaction with the increasing expectations of how much they are being asked to contribute.”

“The danger of these trends, and it’s not necessarily prevalent yet throughout North Carolina, is that we end up in a situation where our democratic process appears to be and acts like political influence is for sale,” he said.

“And what that does is it feeds suspicion and cynicism within the general public about the motivations and integrity of our elected public officials.”

A possible option for the state would be to adopt voluntary public financing of campaigns, Kilpatrick said, a move that has been approved in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico. This fall, he said, Maine will become the first state to put that option into effect.

Other options include strengthening disclosure laws on campaign financing, or simply strengthening the enforcement of existing campaign finance laws.

The Reynolds Foundation’s goal is to “offer opportunities for individuals from all walks of life in the state to become more educated about these issues, and that applies to the media and press as well,” Kilpatrick said.

For information, call the foundation at 336-725-7541.

— Todd Cohen

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