#NCSEN: Fact-checking the Ex-Im Bank, corporate welfare discussion

kaytomThe Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney has waded into our marquee election.  I am typically a big fan of Carney.  (I even bought ONE of his books.)  But painting Thom Tillis as an anti-corporate welfare warrior doing battle with corporatist Kay Hagan is a bit too much.

Much of this has to do with the upcoming reauthorization of the US Export-Import Bank. Hagan has been a staunch defender of the organization — suggesting that it has  had a huge impact on North Carolina. Tillis is out there, now, calling for the bank to be disbanded. (I seem to remember him saying, earlier, that he favored opening the bank’s bag of goodies to more potential recipients. We’re still searching Google for that article.) 

The Export-Import Bank is a favorite of the US Chamber of Commerce, which has been backing Tillis to the hilt.  Carney, in his piece, lays out his version of the campaign debate:

[…] Ex-Im’s charter expires this fall, and Hagan loudly supports renewal again. Tillis, meanwhile, would eliminate Ex-Im, which is corporate welfare that harms the broader economy at the expense of a few exporters.

As a state legislative leader who pushed an aggressive legislative agenda in Raleigh, Tillis has a reputation for straddling the line between the GOP establishment and Tea Party conservatives. Opposing Ex-Im puts Tillis at odds with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and most of the business lobby, but it aligns him with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling.

With Tillis opposing corporate welfare and Hagan defending it, you might think this would undermine the Democrats’ line of attack on the Republican. From the beginning of the campaign, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has blasted Tillis as “Poster Boy For Raleigh Special Interests.” They have knocked him for his closeness to “big business” and for being too cozy with “lobbyists for corporations.”bill-cosby-500

First, it’s tough to seriously argue Tillis pushed an aggressive legislative agenda.  Time and again, he and fellow Charlottean Pat McCrory worked to water down conservative initiatives that emerged from the state Senate.  Tillis — who once pushed legislation through the House establishing an ObamaCare exchange — had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the fight to refuse federal money to expand Medicaid, a key component of ObamaCare. 

Second, it’s tough to seriously paint Tillis as a corporate welfare opponent.  It’s pretty clear that Tillis is taking this position because his establishment buddies are giving their blessing.  McCarthy and McConnell were ALL FOR Ex-Im the last time it came up for a vote.

If you define corporate welfare as giving special favors to big, well-connected businesses, Tillis has been an enthusiastic player in the game.  At one point in the primary, Tillis was in Wilmington singing the praises of state incentives for movie studios.  Within days of those comments, a Wilmington-based movie studio dumped a significant amount of cash into his Senate campaign treasury. 

Tillis helped kill legislation that would force electric car maker Tesla to have a brick-and-mortar dealership in the state, in order to do business.  There are also state incentives on the books for people who buy Tesla cars.  Tesla got special favors from the state that no one else has received.  Tesla has been a client of Tillis’s brother-in-law’s Massachusetts-based law firm. 

Tillis helped push through legislation favorable to the consumer finance lending industry.  Within days of that vote, some major players in that industry were hosting a big fundraiser for Tillis. 

Tillis has  had a chance to shake up the state Commerce Department practice of handing out incentives and goodies to industries being recruited to North Carolina.  Yet, he allowed the House to approve a reorganization of the department that keeps that practice in place.

Neither one of the major party candidates in this year’s Senate race has a very good record on “corporate welfare.”  It’s a nasty, corrupting practice that needs to be snuffed out.

If Raleigh and DC really want to sell us Thom Tillis — they need to try something new.