Money talks yet again

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 11, 2014

RALEIGH — A couple of years ago, two members of the state House who had been overseeing efforts to rein in abusive homeowners associations gave their colleagues a skeptical send-off as they handed over leadership of their committee.
“I wish you well,” said Rep. Julia Howard, a Davie County Republican.
Howard and then-state Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a Wake County Democrat, referred to previous legislation passed by the General Assembly as watered-down.
At the time, legislators had approved a measure that required a homeowners association board to at least take a vote before lawyers or property management companies could begin foreclosure proceedings.
Since then, the General Assembly has approved a law that encourages mediation when homeowners and the associations that enforce neighborhood covenants get into disputes.
Other bills, though, were never voted on. They include one that prohibits foreclosure proceedings over delinquent fees and another that would have required association board members to take a training course.
State lawmakers probably have heard more complaints, at least of the unorchestrated variety, about abusive homeowners associations than any other topic in recent years. Stories abound of homeowners who were assessed late penalties that ran hundreds or even thousands of dollars more than the dues that were late, liens and foreclosure proceedings where property owners were not notified, and legal proceedings that began in error.
WRAL-TV recently reported that a group of property management companies called Alliance for Better Communities gave $51,000 to a nonprofit set up to promote House Republicans.
The donations are noteworthy for a few reasons.
First, they were given at the same time that legislators were considering the homeowners association-related legislation. If the same donations had been made directly to legislators’ campaigns, they would have been illegal.
Second, they may not have come to light except that the organization used a political action committee and WRAL’s Mark Binker found the donations in sorting through PAC records.
Third, they create the impression that lawmakers are for sale. Legislators can deny it all they want. Here’s news for them: A big chunk of the public doesn’t buy the denials. This is exactly the kind of thing that causes people to have such a poor opinion of politicians.
It looks worse because the people who elected those politicians have been clamoring for real protections and real reform, similar to those adopted in other states.
Meanwhile, a shadowy nonprofit has collected other donations from other groups with interests before the legislature.
We don’t know who they are, or what legislation they oppose or support.
Scott Mooneyham writes columns for Capitol Press Association.