The Spirit of Campaign Contribution Limits: a bit of history

In today's Chapel Hill Herald, Ed Harrison defends his acceptance of $1400 in campaign contributions from his parents by saying:

"Neither my parents nor I are interested in flouting the spirit of the [limit]"

Both Jason Baker and Laurin Easthom made reference to this "spirit" in explaining why they have not accepted such large contributions and, in Jason's case, object to Ed doing so.

Given Harrison's long association with the Sierra Club, one might expect him to know that, in 1995, the Sierra Club along with the Orange County Greens initiated a program of voluntary contribution limits. They asked Chapel Hill and Carrboro candidates that year to accept no more than $100 from any individual or PAC. Since that was a voluntary limit, there were no exceptions such as those provide for under state law. 10 of 18 candidates took the pledge. Several others expressed agreement with it in part.

Three years later, the Sierra Club came before the Town Council to petition for contribution limits by ordinance. A $100 proposal was put forward which was rejected in favor of the $200 limit that is in place today. Since this was a legal measure under state statute, North Carolina's exemption of family members is in force but the Council's language did not in itself identify any exemptions.

Nor was any exemption ever part of the spirit of Sierra Club advocacy on this issue. According to council minutes (11/23/1998), Katherine T. Lawson, Vice Chair of the local Sierra Club and State Issue Chair for Campaign Finance Reform, told the Council “that her group wants to make sure that people get into office because they are representing their constituents, rather than because they have the most money.”

An interesting if tangential point: all elected officials still in office today who ran that first year (1995) are among those who took the pledge (Mike Nelson, Kevin Foy, Diana McDuffee, and both Alex Zaffron and Mark Chilton). Clearly, limited spending did not interfere with the the success of their political careers.



Here are my "two cents"! My feeling is that the $200 limit is in the "spirit" of a true grassroots effort depicting a broad base of support. Just for factual reference, my statement in the Herald yesterday "...she felt the contribution would not have been in keeping with the 'spirit' of the $200 limit" was not directed to any specific candidate or his or her own situation. It applied only to myself.

I find it interesting that certain candidates or commentators have chosen to focus on Ed Harrison's contributions (totally legal) of $1400 from his parents but no one has commented about WillR's $1600 in candidate loans to his campaign. Who were these loans from? And if he doesn't repay them do they become donations? And in what time frame are they supposed to be repaid before they become donations? And if they become donations do they still meet the legal limits?

Given the detail that WillR's has provided in his financial statement I find it quite surprising that he failed to provide an itemized accounting of these loans. Will, as a CFO, the provision of such information should not only be obvious but quite easy. Will you provide that info now? Thanks.


I mistakenly referred to you as a CFO when you are really a CIO. Sorry about that. I didn't mean to demote you. ;-)

GeorgeC, it actually says:

loans of $1,600 owed to candidate.


$1,600 in candidate loans

in my post Campaign Economic Report Card. This means I loaned myself (the candidate) the funds in increments of $250 (8/16), $900 (9/28) and $450 (11/01).

Of course, it's a lot easier for an incumbent to amass funds when someone, like yourself GeorgeC, gives $200 a pop.

I look forward to seeing Mr. Harrison's detailed finances reported online prior to the election.

GeorgeC, you probably are aware the detailed reports are available at the Hillsborough BOE. They make an interesting read.

Question. Who had 25 contributions of $100 or more, at least reported as of Oct. 24th? Who had 2 $700, 3 $200, 1 $184, 1 $150 and 18 $100 and from whom did they get them? How many additional $100 or above contributions have come in since Oct. 24th for that candidate?

BTW, I never said anything about Ed tapping Mom and Dad for funds. That's something between him and his parents to settle up on.

OK, can someone just post who gave how much to each campaign, so it is not just a guessing game? The Herald-Sun article just cherry-picked from some of the reports.

I understand your point, I just thought that some reporter would do a more comprehensive job. The N&O (Wake edition) for example today reported on Wills contributions, adding "teh remainder of hte reports are available for inspection in Hillsborough". sounds like the reporter did the easy research. Primary sources just too hard for a reporter to research nowadays, I guess.

Gerry, there is no "one" who can easily do that. The reports in Hillsborough contain hundreds of pages, hard copy only.

It is not hard to imagine a system where candidates would fill out forms and file on-line, with the reports immediately available to those interested. Such a system could allow reporting to stay current right up to election day.


In fact, the State Board of Elections has put in place a wonderful new program for electronic filing. Unfortunately, due to whatever reason (hopefully, just because they haven't had time to implement it yet), the Orange County BOE does not allow electronic filing of reports. It's not quite "instantly" available online, but it still seems like an easier system if you've got a lot of income and dispersements to handle.

My filing from the previous report deadline is available as a pdf from my website. I'd be more than happy to give out the numbers from this one as well, though I neglected to scan every page this time. In summary, my total receipts are at 1293.14, total expenditures at around 1065.63, with 227.51 cash on hand, as of the 27th cut off date. We've had a couple of contributions trickle in since then. I did not accept more than $100 from any individual at any point in this election, including my mother, who I kept to the same limit I did everyone else.


I wasn't trying to attack your loans (although I'm sure it seemed that way!). My only point was that I don't see a lot of difference between a candidate "loaning" himself $1600 and a candidate's parents giving him $1400. I haven't made up my mind whether either is right or wrong (spiritually, you might say), but they're both legal. I just don't think the time for anyone, candidate or observer, to criticize the "spirit" of campaign financing is 4 days before an election when there has been two whole years to do something about it.

"I just don't think the time for anyone, candidate or observer, to criticize the “spirit” of campaign financing is 4 days before an election when there has been two whole years to do something about it."

Amen, GeorgeC!

That's a good point, George. I'm sure that as a supporter of Ed, you are aware that he chaired the Council's campaign finance committee for nearly two years and, as far as I've been able to determine, did nothing.

And I was also responding to WillRs comment "Question. Who had 25 contributions of $100 or more, at least reported as of Oct. 24th? Who had 2 $700, 3 $200, 1 $184, 1 $150 and 18 $100 and from whom did they get them? How many additional $100 or above contributions have come in since Oct. 24th for that candidate?"

As I wrote in my column last week, the Chapel Hill News in the past published complete contributor lists.


It's not up to one Councilperson to change the laws - it's up to the Townspeople to say that they want the laws changed and then for the Council to respond. Each Councilperson represents ALL of the citizens, even the ones who don't vote for them or don't vote at all. How many petitions to change campaign financing have been submitted and ignored by the Council during the last two years?

I'm glad that we are still a community governed by laws - not by the "spirits of the laws". That would be the kind of government that the administration in Washington favors - one where the interpretation of the law can be whatever the person in power wants it to be.

I have no doubt that the current Council feels that the "spirit" of the affordable housing ordinance in LUMO is not being met by $300,000 small houses. But I'm not aware of any development application being denied because the developer didn't meet the "spirit" of the ordinance. And Council has recognized that the ordinance is not fulfilling the intent and has plans to rectify that.

So I don't want people telling me that the "spirit" of the law, any law, is not being met because that is a personal (sometimes very personal) interpretation. Im happy to have them tell me what they see wrong with the existing law(s) and how they propose to change it(them).

Raising the issue of campaign financing that doesn't meet the "spirit" (in their minds) of the law 4 days before the election is just another way of stepping up the "going negative" campaigning that has surfaced in the local campaigns over the last 2 weeks. I really thought we might make it through without seeing such tactics. I guess I was (am) too much of an optimist.

George - clarification on self loans ----

When a candidate lends himself money there are two options to reconcile this. If the candidate raises funds to cover the loan, he may repay himself. If he does not receive enough money to cover the loan, he fills out a 'forgiven loan' form, thus making it a self contribution.

Another point to consider is incumbents often begin their camapign with funds remaining from their previous campaign. Non-incumbents all begin with no funds.

Also, remember in the 2003 election, a candidate received substantial contributions after the election. To get a true picture, the end of year report must be included in a candidate's financial analysis.

Thanks for the clarification. I assumed it was something like that. So if a candidate lends themself $1000 and eventually needs to "forgive" $800, they are giving themself a $800 donation. Which is, of course, entirely legal but perhaps, in some minds, not in the "spirit" of the law. Again, I'm not trying to criticize anyone here. What I want to re-emphasize is that if anyone has a problem with the law they should have raised the issue back in August. Even though it would not be in time to change the law the candidates could have come to a gentle-men's (-women's) agreement regarding their own restrictions to the existing law. But to raise this as an issue 4 days before the election is just plain poor sportmanship.

Based on the curent state of the case law on campaign finance, a government imposed restriction on an indidual's donations to him/herself would not be constitutional. Campign contribution limits are designed to reduce undue influence on candidates, and it would be impossible for someone to unduly influence themsleves. Limits on individual contributions to one's own campaigh are legal if imposed as a condition on accepting publicly financed campaign contrubutions (which Chapel Hilll has asked for state legislative approval of, to no avail)

If the issue is the 'spirit' of the law, does anyone really think that Ed's parents are going to ask for concessions from him in his role as a council member? Do his parents even live here?
If candidates who are wealthy can give themselves loans of any size, isn't limiting family contributions just another means of keeping poor people out of politics?

I think candidates are certainly able to set their own standards, then ask other voters to compare their standards against other peoples standards. For instance, Jason's website says he limits contribs from ANY individual to $100. His first campaign expenditure report listed a contrib from his mother at $100.00.

There are two points at issue: one is undue influence on which Terri is correct. The other is a level playing field in terms of whether a family's ability to contribute should give a candidate a significant advantage.

Most political change happens incrementally. It occurs because someone commits to a principle or the spirit of an idea. Initial progress is often outside the governmental realm, with law following acceptance. Because those creating the law often took office before the principle took hold, the law itself is typically a compromise with other beliefs or interests, and thus a work in progress. I am surprised that it is a controversial notion to anyone that there remains a "spirit" connected to any given principle that is beyond what is legally mandated.

Here's an example for you. The US recently adopted a family leave policy. It is very minimal, far less than what most industrial nations provide. Many companies go beyond that. In other words they commit to the "spirit" that went into creating the family leave act. Still others are organizing for a better law.

If you are content with the letter of the law and ignore the spirit behind it, progress is unlikely to occur.

Going negative? I consider it a civic duty for anyone knowing a problem with a candidate's background and qualifications for office to let that be known. Similarly, if a candidate is making claims that are not supported by his record, those aware of this have a responsibility to let that be known.

Twisting a candidate's record in a dishonest way would, in my view, constitute "going negative."

Oddly, I don't think there is a term for when a candidate twists his own record as Ed Harrison has done.

Isn't the intent of the law to 1) remove undue influence and 2) remove financial obstacles in order to encourage less wealthy individuals to run for office? If you think #1 only, then I see your point about the family contribution. But if you also agree with #2, then your thesis that an individual's personal wealth can be used while family wealth can't seems to be contradictory to the spirit of the law.

I think it's unfortunate the the law only sees contributions as political influence instead of as a measure of community investment. Large numbers of smaller contributions generally indicates more broad support of a candidate.

When I ran for Council I found it pretty easy to raise nearly $5,000 with no contributions greater than $100, my own donation.

It is quite usual now for Dan Coleman to attack Ed
Harrison and to praise Will Raymond at every opportunity.
But recently a new step has been added to this dance, namely that Will
Raymond himself has started to attack Ed. A candidate
typically "goes negative", political lingo for attacking his competitor(s),
when he thinks he is losing. By going negative, a candidate
hurts his reputation to some degree, so the tactic only
works if he can harm his competitor, i.e., reduce his votes,
more than he harms himself.

I applaud Will for listing all his contributors and their amounts,
and I assume that Will has indeed listed all of them, for I have
seen only honesty from him. What I read from the numbers, however,
is that his campaign is in trouble. To have raised only $1,495 from
people other than himself at this late stage is a poor showing.
Campaign contributions serve two primary purposes, first to enable a
candidate to buy advertising, and a non-incumbent badly needs
advertising during the week before election day. Secondly,
contributions serve as a barometer of citizen support for
a candidate. By this measure, Will is faltering here as well.

Of course, on Tuesday evening, we'll see whether my
speculation is matched by reality. In the meantime, we'll all be
entertained by an acerbic response to my post from Dan.

Joe, no new dance steps here. I think I made it pretty clear that I don't care if Ed tapped Mom and Dad for %25 of his campaign funds. I did respond to your candidate's surrogate - but not by denigrating them as you appear to be doing here but by providing additional information. And while your candidate has quite a number of documented problems, some rather incredible mis-statements - even during the last weeks of this election - you won't find one reference to them on my campaign site.

My pattern of contributions owes more to my late start raising funds (Sept. 21st), my reticence to ask for money during these troubled times (Katrina, earthquake, etc.) and generally learning the campaign ropes as I go instead of having the incumbent advantage (running before, carrying over funds, being able to tap interested parties, etc.). I'm honored by the folk that have contributed, former and current Council members, Chairs of prominent Town boards, some great Town activists, folk I work with, a former candidate in this years race (!), former candidates from other years - it's a list of folk that humbles me with their generosity.

And I'm still raising funds if you feel so disposed (large "Donate" button on the right-side of

I appreciate Dan's positive comments, just as I've appreciated your positive comments about my campaign. I also appreciated your advice to me on how to run a successful campaign - some of which I wished I followed.

I've been very positive throughout my campaign, have made my run one of hard work, creativity, innovation, substance and issues. In fact, you're trying to use my locally unprecedented campaign openness - a full listing of my campaign's finances - to characterize its direction.

A strange inversion in the best of times Joe.

Entertainment for Joe: when I discuss problems with a candidate's record, I am "attacking" him. What is it called when you ignore those problems?

WillR, you stated "Of course, it's a lot easier for an incumbent to amass funds when someone, like yourself GeorgeC, gives $200 a pop".

I support a number of candidates in our local elections (3 others this year) and 4 the last cycle as well. Any of the candidates I've supported financially will tell you that I don't come back looking for favors in return for that support. My support is based on one premise: it is a tiring and costly effort to be a candidate for local office (as you well know) and it continues to be tiring and financially unrewarding once you're elected. I see no reason that a candidate should have to bear the financial burden as well as the emotional and physical burdens. Thus anything I can do to ease the former is my way of showing appreciation that they've taken the time to run and sometimes serve.

> It is a tiring and costly effort to be a candidate for local office
> (as you well know) and it continues to be tiring and financially
> unrewarding once you're elected. I see no reason that a
> candidate should have to bear the financial burden as well as
> the emotional and physical burdens.

George, you just gave a wonderful justification for public financing of elections.


I do feel that public financing might be appropriate. But if we do that with our local elections we need to get it right. On the national level we ended up with all the various PACs and we all know what a disaster that turned out to be. I would hope that we might be able to come up with something better here in Orange County.

Just so folks know, any public financing for local elections requires enabling legislation be enacted in Raleigh. It is something worth pushing for.

This was approved in a State Senate committee in 2004, but was never voted on (long story):

I'd be curious your take on why Gerry. The main take I've heard is that the homebuilders are opposed to local publicly financed campaigns b/c it dimishes their influence.


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