By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. – Radio ads that were sponsored by a statewide teachers group and urged Republican lawmakers to vote for a state lottery constituted lobbying, but state law does not require the group to disclose what it spent on the ads, the state Secretary of State’s Office says.
“After our legal analysis, we believe that that was what we consider lobbying,” says George Jeter, director of communications for the office.
”However, under the current law, it’s not something that would have to be reported.”
Current law requires the disclosure only of lobbying costs that benefit state lawmakers, Jeter says.
But he says a new law that was approved by lawmakers this year and takes effect Jan. 1, 2007 probably will require disclosure of the cost of radio ads.
Lawyers for the Secretary of State’s Office looked at the current law to see whether it covers radio ads or their cost in response to questions from the Philanthropy Journal about ads produced last year by gaming-firm consultant Kevin Geddings for the N.C. Association of Educators.
On a form it filed Oct. 25 with the Secretary of State’s Office reporting its lobbying expenses from January 1 through September 2, the teachers group does not disclose the cost of the ads or say who produced them or how much was spent on them.
Colleen Borst, executive director of the teachers group, told the Journal earlier this month that it had hired Geddings, a Charlotte communications professional, as a vendor, not a lobbyist.
Geddings, who worked for gaming firm Scientific Games, is a target of an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office into possible lobbying-law violations related to lawmakers’ passage this year of a state lottery to raise money for public schools.
Questions about lottery lobbying also have prompted calls for tougher lobbying rules, greater disclosure about groups and individuals involved in lobbying, and for speeding up the effective date of the new law.
Bob Hall, research director for Democracy North Carolina, a nonprofit research and advocacy group in Carrboro that focuses on political spending, said the current law is “very frustrating for those who want to get full information or even adequate information about the amount of money that’s spent in lobbying.
He said the new law should “make plain that contracts made by principals to third parties to solicit others through radio ads or telephone phone banking or other significant expenditures should be fully disclosed.”
Bob Phillips, executive director of Raleigh-based Common Cause North Carolina, a watchdog for more open government, agreed the current law has problems.
“Given what the circumstance is, that Kevin Geddings was not a registered lobbyist,” he said, “the current law appears to me not to require NCAE disclosing these expenses, and certainly that is an example of the loophole and problem we have in the existing law.”