Earlier today, we published an investigation I’ve been working on that looked at a lobbying group that paid for 11 legislators to fly down to Florida.
The investigation is here, and I encourage readers to take a look at it.
The group, Parents for Education Freedom in North Carolina, maintained that the March trip was to educate lawmakers about Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, an initiative that gives companies dollar-for-dollar tax credits when they donate to scholarship money that sends low-income children to private schools.
But not everyone buys PEFNC’s argument that the trip was to educate, and see it as part of a lobbying strategy to get the controversial program on lawmaker’s radars as they tackle some of the larger questions about what changes should come to the N.C. public education system.
State ethics law is very strict around the lobbying gifts (by strict, I mean gifts aren’t allowed), but exceptions are made for educational meetings and trips. So, the real question is whether the trip to Miami was meant to just educate lawmakers, or to influence or lobby them. That’s generally a judgment call the State Ethics Commission has to make.
In the story, I mentioned a May 3 public records request I made to N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office for records pertaining to the March trip. I haven’t received any of those records, as I reported, but will add here that I spoke with Jordan Shaw, Tillis’ spokesman, yesterday and was told the office is processing the request and would get those records to me soon.
I’ll let readers know when I do get those public records, and what’s in them.
I also should note that part of my initial May 3 request was asking for the identities of any Tillis staffers on the trip and it wasn’t until yesterday (Wednesday) that I was told the staffer on the trip was Jason Kay, legal counsel for the Speaker’s office.
PEFNC had paid for Kay to go on the trip, but didn’t report that in the first lobbying expense reform they filed with SOS’s office. That came in a May 15 addendum.
I wanted to also put up some links to the documents I used, so that readers can judge for themselves what they think about the trip.
So, without further ado, here are some of the documents I used for my investigation.
- The lobbying expense form filed with the N.C. Secreary of State’s Office (includes May 15 addendum.
- The ethics memorandum drawn up by PEFNC telling lawmakers the trip was allowable under ethics rules.
- The agenda for the trip.
- The campaign donations made by Partners for Educational Freedom (PEFNC’S political-action committee).
- The podcast interview PEFNC director Darrell Allison gave to an education reform blog, in which he talks about how the Florida trip was to push a plan to bring the tax credit scholarship program to N.C.
As always, let me know what questions or comments you might have. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can reach me at my desk — (919) 861-1463.