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UNC BOG Series Part II: Financial contributions to lawmakers play a role in UNC System policy

One of the largest concerns for current students, prospective students, faculty, and staff in the UNC system is how the state legislature, which controls nearly all of the system’s overall budget, selects and interacts with the System’s leadership. Looking at political contributions made by the Board of Governors, the governing body of the UNC system, and to NC lawmakers who make the appointments brings to light how budgetary and other crucial decisions about the UNC System are made.

Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland) was the only original NC Promise Plan sponsor to receive contributions from current members of the BOG. His biggest contributor is Michael Williford, who contributed a total of $24,700 to Meredith between 2012 and 2018. Williford was appointed to the Board in 2015, and received his JD from NCCU, another HBCU within the system that is not slated to be deeply impacted by the Promise Plan, but is currently facing criticism for erasing the culture of the university.

Harry L. Smith Jr., who currently serves as the chair of the Board, contributed a total of $4,500 to Meredith. He was first appointed to the BOG in 2013 and reappointed in 2017. Additionally, between 2016 and 2018, BOG member James L. Holmes, Jr. contributed $5,000 to Meredith.

Sen. Meredith is not the only member of the North Carolina General Assembly who received campaign contributions from current members of the BOG. The chart below displays totals received by NC House and Senate leaders. Not surprisingly, Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) received the most contributions, totaling $117,298.78. Lt. Governor Dan Forest, who also serves as ceremonial President of the Senate but doesn’t vote on laws or appointments except in the case of a tie, received contributions totaling $8,225. 

Source: NCSBE

These contributions from the Board are rather significant when juxtaposed with the fact that the NC Promise created a system that is likely to cause low-income students to pay more in the long run, despite promises made in marketing campaigns. 

As the 2018 elections draw nearer, it is important to remain vigilant of who supports state lawmakers. Recent polling indicates this election may garner more support from young black people, especially women, as well as poor people, who have faced the brunt of Raleigh Republicans agenda. However, the lawmakers sponsoring these bills that have the power to impact the lives of many in these demographics don’t appear to mirror them. Out of the three sponsors for S99, only one of them is Black, and all of the sponsors hold occupations that allow them to have much more autonomy than those they represent. In addition, those who have financially supported these legislators between the last two election cycles follow that cycle. These donors, both individual and companies, consist mainly of white people who take on positions that enable them to have more funds, autonomy, and mobility than the constituents affected by these changes made to the UNC system. 

Given the million-dollar ad campaign launched to sell the NC Promise plan, it’s worth taking a critical look at what these taxpayer dollars are trying to sell and to whom.