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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, August 15, 2001. Interview C-0331. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Realities of campaign finance

Because money is essential to current campaign efforts, Hunt contends that eliminating contributors would be detrimental to politicians. The mounting costs of political campaigns heightens public and media scrutiny of public officials, which Hunt insists both rejects the reality of modern-day campaigning and detracts the attention politicians can give to their constituents. Hunt therefore advocates the use of public financing rather than private donors.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, August 15, 2001. Interview C-0331. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK FLEER:
Part of the scrutiny that's involved in serving as governor and serving the governor as an appointee is the scrutiny related to campaign contributions and service in the public. You ran into as previous governors have on the board of transportation for example some fairly serious allegations at least about people who gave significant amounts of money to your campaign benefiting from highway construction projects or whatever it might be. What does that tell you about our campaign finance system, and what can we do based on your experience to alleviate this public perception of people feeding from the public trough?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Well, we have to first of all have a code of ethics in which you clearly identified any interests that people on the board of transportation or other fulltime positions have. You've got to know what they own or categories, certainly areas in which they have ownership [unclear] . We must constantly be educating people with regard to that. I directed that the relevant parts of the code of ethics be, after they were strengthened and so forth—that those be regularly read in meetings and boards and focused on. Ethics statements have to be updated every year. I would just say, Jack, again push me on this if you will, you have to have a way of knowing whether or not they have potential conflicts. You do that by having the statement of, your ethics statement filled out in great detail having it available to the public of course, constantly referring to it and keeping it on their minds and having your department be sensitive to that.
JACK FLEER:
You're talking about financial disclosures statements?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yes. But basically you have to limit the number of people who serve who have an interest. Now the question is does contributing to the campaign mean that you're not qualified to serve? I never felt that it should mean that you couldn't serve. There are other interests involved. That's not necessarily a qualification, but it shouldn't be a disqualification. It's the fact that you, you get involved in politics, there's lots of ways. You can work at the precincts or you can go out and speak or you can give money. You don't disqualify people for working at the precinct or going out and speaking or advising or whatever it may be. Yet again we're in a, we live in a world where making contributions has been presented by various groups and the press as somehow disqualifying them to serve. So I think the way the legislature eventually dealt with it and the Board of Transportation was to, in effect, limit or disqualify active members from leading fundraisers and assuring that you have lots of other interests represented is probably a pretty good way to deal with it. But you have to be careful that you don't go so far that nobody will give, if it takes money. I've come to the point where I believe in public financed campaigns. You still have to have some individual gifts but they would be small. Then you wouldn't have to work, the candidates wouldn't have to work at it. I believe that we have to do something about this. But there are people who naively think that you can have campaigns without spending money. You have eight million people, seven million people communicating with them, it's hugely expensive any way you do it. We're being very naïve. It's counterproductive to pretend that you can run campaigns without having a lot of money. I think the only way to do it is to let that money come from the public so that your obligation is to the public, and it could not be perceived just as corruption from substantial amounts of money.
JACK FLEER:
So you would permit some private contributions, but you would limit their amounts.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yes. I would, I haven't devised a specific detail, but I think you have to have some way of identifying who are the serious candidates. That is typically done by people who raise a certain amount of money. They're obviously serious candidates.
JACK FLEER:
Sort of a certain threshold amount that they would raise to qualify?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yes. That's right. But once you qualify, then I would have public financing of campaigns.
JACK FLEER:
Short of that which—
JAMES B. HUNT:
Now we've discussed this before haven't we?
JACK FLEER:
No, we haven't.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Well, let me say to you then, I'm not only concerned about where the money comes from. I am concerned about that. It's easier to become beholden to people who give you money as it is people who endorse you, big organizations and things like that. But the things that really sort of made me pretty passionate on this issue is the fact that raising money has become a full-time job. Candidates spend most of their time raising money, not out talking to people, listening to people, learning about the issues, trying to figure out, building the kind of relationship they need to have with their governor. They spend most of their time on the telephone raising money or in a reception with big givers. They don't see ordinary people. I think that is a real threat to our democracy.
JACK FLEER:
Well, not only a threat to our democracy, but it probably inhibits the ability of a person to actually serve as governor in the sense that they're less well informed of what the people are thinking.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yes. This has all occurred during the time, over the time that I served as governor. When I ran for lieutenant governor, my first kind of big activity was a one hundred county tour, a one hundred county tour. I finished and came back and had a press conference and announced I had just been to 102 counties. They wanted to know where the other two came from. I said well US 64 was being worked on way up in western North Carolina. I had to go through two counties in Georgia to get back, which was true. But in those early years I went to every county time and again and again and again. I can tell you about every county in North Carolina. I can draw you a map. I can tell you about the places in there that I've been. I can tell you the people; I can tell you the industries. I can tell you how they make a living. I can tell you what their schools are like. I can tell you about their medical services. I know all that. I know those people. Candidates who run today can't do that. They don't ever go to them. They don't know the people. They can't picture in their mind's eye. They can't tell you what the courthouse looks like or what the schools look like or other things.
JACK FLEER:
Or what's on people's minds?
JAMES B. HUNT:
That's right. They haven't had that interaction with people. Therefore, they can use television. But they can't, I think or the likelihood of their being able, to know what people are thinking and being able to pull them together and rally them to do big things is really reduced. Again they don't have in their mind's eye the picture of what these communities and these people are like. It's much harder I think to understand the public's will and desires and hopes and dreams, and to be able to fashion the kind of teamwork and partnership to bring that about and to get the legislature to respond. Every time I talk to a legislator and try to get them to help, I knew the people back home that had helped them. Candidates don't do that now. They don't typically. They will in a few communities. They don't have a team of people in every county in the state who will be kind of urging that legislator to be supportive if they can [unclear] .
JACK FLEER:
Isn't part of the problem here, Governor, that the amounts of money that are involved are so great that those candidates may well feel that sort of the maximum return that they're going to get in terms of funding is focusing on the funding process?
JAMES B. HUNT:
That's right. That's exactly right. You have to, they hire these consultants. The consultants tell them this is a TV game. The only way you can win it is on television, and you have to have immense amounts of money in order to be able to do it; therefore, you've got to spend all your time raising money.
JACK FLEER:
There's a certain reality to that, isn't there?
JAMES B. HUNT:
There is, but we can change it by having public financing; therefore, freeing up candidates to go back and be real candidates again.