Apodaca, Guice among legislators in N.C. receiving Sunshine Award

Published 3:55 pm Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thirty-two North Carolina legislators are receiving a surprise Christmas present this week a “Sunshine Award” from the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina. The list of legislators includes N.C. Senator Tom Apodaca and N.C. Rep. David Guice, whose districts include Polk County.
The biennial award is given to lawmakers who file “superior” reports disclosing details about their campaign expenses and donations.
Award winners include 20 House members and 12 state Senators. The list has 22 Democrats led by House Speaker Joe Hackney and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight and 10 Republicans led by Paul Stam and Apodaca.
“Our staff and interns evaluated the reports of all 170 legislators elected in 2008 and found these 32 went well beyond the minimum of the law to give the public valuable information about where they get their campaign money and how its spent,” said Bob Hall, the groups executive director.
“The quality of reporting has greatly improved in the past five years and dozens of legislators are doing a good job, especially with the help of well-trained campaign treasurers,” he said.
Award winners: (1) filed their six reports in 2007-2008 on time and in an accessible format, (2) listed the purpose of 99% of the expenses over $50 and (3) provided economic interest or employer information for 99% of the dozens of individuals who gave more than $50 to their campaign.”
“Strong disclosure laws protect the public interest and help educate voters,” Hall noted. The reports reveal, for example, whether a legislator gets support from a broad range of interests or is more narrowly backed by attorneys or chiropractors, developers or agribusiness.
The Sunshine Awards symbolize the increasing emphasis on openness and accountability in state government, Hall said.
“You could call 2009 the Transition Year for Greater Openness. It began with the new governor adopting measures for greater disclosure and campaign reform and ended with a top aide of the old governor facing questions about his role in possible illegal activities revealed through campaign reports and emails obtained under the states open records law.”
“Whats especially different this year is that top public officials took the initiative themselves to clean house and push their own reforms,” Hall continued.
He pointed to (1) Gov. Bev Perdues exposing gifts by Verizon to officials in Gov. Easleys Department of Transportation and her executive orders against gifts and for expanded disclosure; (2) Treasurer Janet Cowells removal of a top investment fund manager and directives about gifts and lobbying; and (3) Speaker Joe Hackneys promotion of increased ethics and campaign finance training for Democratic House members and his leadership for new ethics and public campaign financing legislation.
Several bills to address the “pay to play” culture passed either the state House or Senate in 2009 and will likely receive considerable attention in 2010.
“The public is demanding a higher standard of ethical conduct and more accountability to voters rather than narrow self-interests.
Disclosure helps shine a light on problems, but it takes the right mix of restrictions, incentives, enforcement and leadership to change the political culture,” Hall said. “Weve made real progress in North Carolina, and we have plenty of room for improvement.”

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