Written by Caroline Yaffa
UNC students uncovered a violation of campaign finance law at a polling site ongoing since Friday, October 21. The video taken on Monday, October 24 confirmed allegations of campaign misconduct against a local PAC.
The video was taken on Monday afternoon outside of the Durham Main Library, an early voting location for Durham County. It captures Durham poll worker Solomon Burnette passing out campaign materials that endorse candidates Clarence Birkhead, Valerie Foushee, and Cherie Beasley. Burnette identified himself as “a poll worker/organizer for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.”
Two campaign materials supporting Birkhead and Foushee were explicitly marked as paid for by their respective campaigns. Burnette verbally supported all aforementioned candidates, distributing a sample ballot with instructions on which candidates to vote for. He has disclosed his involvement as a worker in several political campaigns.
At face value, this practice is in violation of existing campaign law. Burnette, as an organizer for Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People PAC, should have no role distributing materials paid for by political campaigns. The violated campaign finance law states that “political campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with outside groups who are not subject to the same fundraising limitations.” In a filing with the North Carolina State Board of Elections, the PAC claimed that there was no comingling with prohibited or other non-disclosed funds.
The Supreme Court confronted this issue and formed a visible boundary in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, as well as the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act. These mandates hold that political activity has to be independent of candidates and parties, specifically stating that independent expenditures cannot be made “in cooperation, consultation, or concert” with a candidate.
The two students who documented the crime have chosen to remain anonymous but feel strongly about the incident. “There is an established understanding that DCABP’s are supposed to be separate from the candidates… When a reasonable person looks at what’s going on in the video, they would probably say: ‘This doesn’t look separate. Where are the lines and who will enforce that candidates and DCABPs are in compliance with the laws?’” one student said.
The two students hope that the video is enough proof for elected officials to stand up against this injustice and put a stop to DCABP involvement in this scheme coordinated with political candidates. One of the students urged action in order to “ensure fairness for candidates on all sides of the political spectrum,” encouraging an investigation and that “those involved should be held accountable to ensure all candidates running for public office are playing by the same rules.”
A complaint with the Board of Elections has been filed.
The DCABP strives to “combat hate and injustices…[they] offer a safe space for not only the Black community to voice their concerns, but other minority groups as well, and take the first steps necessary to combat injustices,” said DCABP Chairman Antonio James.