Responding to the Trevor Gates Guest Columnist article “Down Home pushing for a stronger Sylva”:
Let me first of all state that I neither denigrate nor disparage the work of Down Home North Carolina. I believe they have lofty goals, and I applaud the work that they do. I, too, am in favor of expanded medical care coverage, a higher minimum wage (living wage) and affordable housing.
I believe that everyone who can should vote in every election and make his or her voice heard. Too many times we are not listened to by politicians, corporations and lobbyists.
I do not consider the members of the organization “outsiders.” They live here, work here, and many have spent their entire lives here. That said, it is not true of the money that supports the political activities of the organization.
Mr. Gates stated in his article that: “During the elections, Down Home NC and (Sylva town board) candidate Carrie McBane were attacked in the pages of this paper.” That is blatantly untrue. The Sylva Herald did run an article on an outside political action committee making its way into a very local election.
To me, the introduction of a political action committee into local elections, unless it is truly raised locally, is wrong. I said so in the past when money was being introduced into a county commissioner’s election. At that time funds were being provided by persons, that though they owned property in the county, neither permanently resided nor voted here.
Neither the Sylva Herald nor myself have ever made a disparaging statement about the organization of Down Home NC. I have protested the use of outside funds to further the ends and goals of what is supposedly a local organization.
Let’s be perfectly clear here and look at the facts. From the public records that are filed with the N.C. Elections Board, we can see that Down Home NC has, in the past two years, received deposits of $185,254.81 collectively from three sponsors. These organizations that fund Down Home are The People’s Action Committee of Chicago, Illinois ($60,254.81), The Green Advocacy Project of Palo Alto, California ($105,000); and the Future Now Fund of Washington, D.C. ($20,000). During that same period the total deposits from private donations seems to be $291.00. They have spent a total of $30,133.52 on electioneering in Western North Carolina, including $9,461.96 on the latest municipal election.
The Sylva Herald, Oct. 10 edition, reported that Down Home NC had two full-time paid canvassers knocking on doors in the town of Sylva and handing out election fliers for the candidates they endorsed. I do not see where these have been paid out of locally raised funds. Perhaps it is naïve of me to believe that an organization that touts itself on its website as a “grass roots organization” would be using volunteers for this purpose.
Let’s be honest. The members are local. The concerns are local. Working toward a better Sylva is local. But the money is not. The Supreme Court Citizens United decision has opened the door for outside groups to pump money into local down ballot elections. The ruling made it legal. It did not make it right.
I would ask the Sylva Town Council and the Jackson County Commissioners to consider passing resolutions repudiating the use of outside Political Action Committee funds in these purely local elections. We all want to make Sylva and Jackson County a better place for all to live, but we cannot do it if we are not the masters of our own house.
Keep in mind the old adage, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.” Outside money will influence local domestic politics.
Luther Jones was a 2019 candidate for Sylva town board. He lives in Sylva.