, BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Last month, we did a series of reports on Get out the Vote activities in Bladen County, where candidates pay people to round up votes for them. We received a number of calls in response to those reports saying we never mentioned the biggest player of all in the Bladen Get out the Vote arena.
It’s called the Bladen County Improvement Association, and it’s been operating for at least 30 years. The donors to this political action committee include some very high profile politicians, including Sen. Kay Hagan, state Sen. R.C. Soles, former state Sen. Tony Rand and District Attorney Rex Gore. But who exactly runs this organization is a mystery to many residents.
“They say they’re Bladen County Improvement Association, and if they are, I might would want to be a member,” said Benny Callihan, a Bladen County resident who has concerns about the PAC. “I want to improve Bladen County. I want to see it grow and be beautiful, but I’ve never seen a park that they’ve cleaned up. I’ve never seen any playground equipment. I’m not saying they’ve not done this, but if they have, I don’t have any knowledge of it.”
Instead, the only thing Callihan sees this group do is work to influence the outcome of elections. A copy of a sample ballot committee workers handed out during the last election was already filled out for some of its regular contributors, like Gore and County Commissioners W.D. Neill and Albert Beatty.
“They want to get politicians that believe the way they do; the liberal agenda. They want those politicians elected, and conservatives can’t get elected. They won’t put a conservative on the ballot,” Callihan said.
In some cases, the people in charge of the Bladen County Improvement Association and the people they endorse are one in the same. Neill is the president of the political action committee. We’re told other active members include County Commissioner Delilah Blanks and Board of Education members Mike Cogdell and Ophelia Munn. Until recently, Sheriff’s candidate Prentis Benston served as the group’s vice president.
While it appears what they’re doing is legal, more and more people are starting to question the motives and tactics of the Bladen County Improvement Association. Callihan thinks the group holds far to much sway and literally controls who gets elected through a group of hundreds of residents who vote exactly the way they’re told.
“They control our day to day lives,” Callihan said. “The judges have to be on their sample ballot in this district to get elected. The county commissioners that raise our taxes, make county ordinance, they effect our life. Our Board of Education. And they’re electing people that maybe I don’t want and a lot of the people in Bladen County don’t want.”
We were unable to reach anyone with the Bladen County Improvement Association for comment, but we did speak to a founding member, who says he recently left the group because he did not think elected officials should be running a political action committee. He did not want to go on camera, but said he thought money had started to play way to big a role in determining which candidates the committee supported. He also added that the group has done a lot of good over the years, advocating for people who have been discriminated against.