April 4, 1997
PRICE FOR A SEAT ON THE
BOARD OF TRANSPORTATION PUT' AT $11,000
Governor James Hunt addressed the members of Board of Transportation at their
swearing-in ceremony today --but a public-interest group blasted his appointments
as a prime example of "the corrupting influence of campaign money".
The families of the 21 members appointed by the Governor gave an average of $11,000
each -- for a total of $231,000 -- to Hunt's 1996 reelection bid, according to
an analysis of campaign records by Democracy South, a nonpartisan research and
advocacy organization based in Chapel Hill.
The practice of appointing major donors to key boards and commissions is not new,
and a seat on the Board of Transportation is arguably the choicest plum because
members dole out over $1 billion in road-building money each year.
"This was a chance for the Governor to challenge DOT's bias for highway sprawl
and reject a patronage system that auctions off seats on key policy making boards,"
said Joe McDonald of the N.C. Alliance for Transportation Reform, a statewide
group of neighborhood activists. "The Board of Transportation needs to be
replaced with a new mechanism for transportation planning, but the Governor's
appointments are just business as usual; he's basically turning over a giant public
agency to developers, realtors, and other private interests."
The six new board members (15 are re-appointments) all have strong ties to traditional
business interests and economic development groups. The whole board includes a
nod toward diversity -~ an African American attorney, a Republican mayor, a female
transit planner -- but it is dominated by business owners, building contractors
and others with strong political fundraising credentials.
"At a time when the public is demanding campaign finance reform, the Governor
is rewarding his biggest donors with the power to spend tax money as they see
fit," said Chris Fitzsimon of the Common Sense Foundation in Raleigh. "This
kind of leadership is why we don't get needed reforms but do get millions spent
on needless road projects, like UNC's controversial Rams Club boulevard."
Research by Democracy South shows:
** Political patronage is a major source of campaign money for Jim Hunt. A preliminary
review of his finances shows that about $2 million of $10.3 million Runt raised
came from the families and business associates of donors appointed to boards and
commissions in the past 4 years.
** The $231,000 from DOT board members and their families doesn't include the
amount, likely much larger, that these individuals helped raise. For example,
board member Lyndo Tippet served as state Democratic Party treasurer during his
first term on the board, and Douglas Galyon helped package at least $50,000 in
donations from fellow executives at Guilford Mills for Gov. Hunt's 1996 race.
** Road builders and Department of Transportation contractors were among the biggest
donors to Hunt's campaign. They include W. T. Phillips, chairman of the Knoxville,
Tennessee land clearing contractor (Phillips & Jordan, Inc.) who gave the
maximum of $12,000, and top executives and family members of Tarboro's Barnhill
Contracting Co., who gave Hunt $35,450. Donating developers Include the Crosland
family of Charlotte ($16,250), the Zimmer's of Wilmington ($24,000), Raleigh1s
Cliff Benson family ($13,000) and Seby Jones family ($16,000), and the Shelton's
of Charlotte and Winston-Salem ($46,000).
** An earlier report: by the Institute for Southern Studies and Independent Weekly
of Durham found that members of the DOT board appointed by Gov. Jim Martin gave
or raised more than $3.5 million for Republican candidates and the party from
1984 to 1992. The 1992 "Highway Robbery" report quoted Billy Rose, former
head of DOT's Highway Division, saying that 5 to 10 percent of DOT spending was
wasted on road projects designed to satisfy "political favoritism or just
plain old greed." That amounts to over $100 million a year in wasted tax
Democracy South is a successor to the Institute for Southern Studies' research
project on the influence of campaign money in state politics. Now an independent
nonprofit organization, Democracy South favors voluntary, full public financing
for qualified candidates as a way to move electoral politics beyond the current
quid-pro-quo patronage system.