North Carolina taxpayers support plenty of nonprofits across the state. There are numerous grant programs run by public agencies, and opportunities for nonprofits to bid to provide services.
But there’s a much easier way for nonprofits to earn money from state government: Getting it directly from the General Assembly.
Allocations to charities and other not-for-profit organizations are a regular part of what’s known euphemistically as “special appropriations.” They’re more commonly called earmarks, or pork. This year’s budget had plenty of it.
This money doesn’t make up very much of the state’s $24 billion budget. Most of the time, it’s divvied out in the tens of thousands of dollars apiece.
But as you dig through the hundreds of pages of appropriations, you can’t help but wonder: How does the legislature decide on who’s getting it?
And if you’re a North Carolina nonprofit, you have to be wondering how you can get a piece of the pie.
A brief history of pork
The definition of pork can vary depending on who you ask. But in general, it refers to allocations of money to specific local projects by the General Assembly.
There’s always been plenty of this in North Carolina.
Until 1983, each project was considered in its own bill. This is inefficient and requires a lot of effort to get everything passed. So after that, the General Assembly started being gathered up into an omnibus local appropriations bill.
The procedure for doling out this money varies depending on who’s in charge. But at times, it’s had a very regimented system — complete with specific forms for representatives to fill out to request funding.
In general, budget writers have in mind a rough dollar amount they want to give out in this manner.
In 1985, for example, legislative leadership set aside $10 million for pork, with $100,000 designated for each senator and $50,000 for each House member. Democrats in this era used the system to reward and punish members of the caucus.
“Pork barrel is a highly partisan issue and a device used by the leaders to maintain their leadership positions and enhance party discipline,” wrote Appalachian State professor Joel Thompson in a 1986 analysis for Legislative Studies Quarterly.
Today, the process isn’t quite as formal but gets carried out in roughly the same way.
In the last half-decade, these small pork projects have become especially commonplace as the state has run revenue surpluses — bringing in more tax dollars than expected. Earmarks are a way to spend some of that money without committing to keeping anything going long-term.
Like the old days, General Assembly members have to lobby House and Senate leaders and budget writers for what they’d like to see.
Most of the time these days this money goes to local governments, for things like water line projects or rest stop construction or economic development.
But plenty of nonprofits also get money.
Which nonprofits got money in the 2018 state budget bill?
Here’s what we were able to find.
- Golden LEAF Foundation (Rocky Mount): $20 million
- Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (opening Triad office): $6 million
- Vaya Health (Asheville): $1.4 million
- Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship (Charlotte): $1 million
- Human Coalition (Charlotte, Raleigh offices): $300,000
- Cross Trail Outfitters (Washington County): $250,000
- North Carolina Association of People Supporting Employment First: $125,000
- Onslow County YMCA: $100,000
- Lenoir County United Way: $40,000
- Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries: $35,000
- Dare County Special Olympics: $30,000
- Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., North Carolina Region: $25,000
- The Greater Bath Foundation: $20,000
- Men of Faith, Integrity and Character (Mount Olive): $7,500
- All the King’s Children Foundation (Mount Olive): $7,500
- Colors of Life Community Development (Lumberton): $5,000
- Parkton Ruritan Club, Inc. (Robeson County): $5,000
- United Saddletree Center (Lumberton): $5,000
7 ways your nonprofit can get money from the General Assembly.
The first and most effective way is to be chartered by the state government. The big one is the Golden LEAF Foundation, which operates under a charter from the General Assembly and is tasked with general economic development and relief to eastern North Carolina.
It was set up in 1999 to administer money from a landmark federal tobacco settlement and now gets regular infusions of money from the state.
Also in this category fall the state’s managed care organizations like Vaya Health and Cardinal Innovations which were set up to distribute state and federal mental health programs. They’re not really nonprofits, but function like them.
These organizations can more or less count on state appropriations. For the rest of North Carolina’s nonprofits, it helps to fall into the following categories.
Support pro-life, Christian, mental health, hunger, disability or outdoor missions.
While a wide range of nonprofits get funding, a Longleaf Politics review of budget bills over the last few years shows that these categories recur frequently — and there are several examples this year.
Two pro-life groups get funding in the 2018 budget: Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship and the Human Coalition. The former is mostly getting money for equipment. The latter will be setting up a program in Raleigh to help women with “crisis pregnancies” carry their babies to term.
The other hot-button contribution went to Cross Trail Outfitters, a group that leads people to Christ through outdoor activities.
Groups like 4-H, the YMCA and Second Harvest Food Bank also tend to get money frequently.
Build a museum or memorial.
The General Assembly seems to really like contributing money to support museums and to build new memorials. It’s a good way to reach likely voters and is something tangible. Dedication also gives the representative an event to speak at.
The Museum of the Waxhaws, Museum of the Marine, Montford Point Marine Memorial, Aurora Fossil Museum, Wilmington Children’s Museum, Fayetteville Civil War Museum, Discovery Place, Schiele Museum of Natural History and many others all appear in recent years.
Hire a good lobbyist.
The $6 million appropriation for Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers to open a Triad facility came after several years of work from Rob Lamme and Associates. Rob also brought on the Manning Fulton government relations team to help this year in a full-court press. The facility is meant to help combat the opioid epidemic.
Be in a flippable district with a Republican senator.
Delivering pork is a good way for an elected official to show that they’re working on behalf of their constituents, and if your representative or senator is in a tough re-election battle, you’d better bend their ear.
This year, two organizations in Mount Olive got $7,500 — Men of Faith, Integrity and Character and the All the King’s Children Foundation. They’re represented by Sen. Louis Pate, who is in a district targeted by Democrats.
Same goes for Sen. Danny Earl Britt, Jr., who landed three $5,000 appropriations for his district.
Make friends with a politician who’s owed an apology.
As the General Assembly has redrawn electoral maps, some members of their own party have been thrown into new districts with fellow incumbents or put in districts much less favorable to them. Several nonprofits got money in their districts.
- Sen. Joyce Krawiec helped land the money for TROSA after being double-bunked with Sen. Dan Barrett, narrowly beating him by 200 votes in May’s primary.
- Sen. Bill Cook got money for The Greater Bath Foundation and Dare County Special Olympics after being put in a Democratic-leaning district and choosing not to run again.
- Sen. Shirley Randleman helped land the Vaya Health money after being put in a district with Sen. Deanna Ballard and losing in the primary.
Have an in with leadership
This is probably the best way to get money historically. Districts led by budget writers like Sen. Harry Jones and Rep. Nelson Dollar, or by other legislative leaders, tend to get pork.
This year, let’s go back to Cross Trail Outfitters. House Speaker Tim Moore is a banquet sponsor for one of the organization’s events in Shelby.