The previous State Elections Board's term expired just as they were beginning to investigate $235,000 of allegedly illegal political donations. The donations implicate Gov. Pat McCrory and legislators from both parties. Governor McCrory made the unusual decision of replacing all of the board members.
The new board began on Wednesday, and it’s up to them to decide whether to pursue the potential campaign finance violations.
Chase Burns of Anadarko, Oklahoma was arrested in Florida in March on charges of racketeering and money laundering.
Burns had written more than 65 checks to various candidates in North Carolina's 2012 election.
"[Chase Burns] hit the top folks with the most. McCrory got $8,000 between Mr. and Mrs Burns," Bob Hall said in an interview with The State of Things. "And then the leadership: Thom Tillis is Speaker [of the House]. He got the second most. And then President Pro Tem, Phil Berger, so $8,000 to $6,500. And then 20 or 30 of the second tier, who got $4,000 a pop. And then another 20 or 30 got $2,500. He really did spread it around. Democrats as well as Republicans."
Hall is the director of Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group. Hall filed the original request for the investigation with the State Elections Board.
According to Hall, the democratic process is distorted when candidates receive money from lobbyists. Campaign financing may make politicians beholden to their donors rather than the voters.
Two scientists also joined the State of Things conversation to speak on how money impacts research.
According to Nico Katsanis, a professor in the department of cell biology at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, the National Institute of Health, which is the country's biggest funder of medical research, has lost 20 percent of its spending power since 2004. Competition for money has become more fierce among scientists, and taxpayers are wary of giving money to experimentation.
"The population has a need for pretty close gratification. 'Where did my money go?' And unfortunately research doesn't quite work that way," said Katsanis.
As the NIH funding decreases, scientists have been filling the gap with crowdsourced money -- that is, donations from individuals and corporations.
Just as money may potentially divert politicians' attention away from their voters interests, money given to scientists fuels more narrow and result-oriented research.
"Let's not forget what science is. It's fundamentally a creative process," said Lindsay Zanno, the Director of the Paleontology and Geology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. "Scientists are people who use creativity to address problems. Without that sort of liberty to investigate the problems that we see arising on the day to day basis, you are sort of stifling and channeling science..."