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Emails reveal that company provided “talking points” to McCrory administration

Ho hum – another day, another troubling example of the McCrory administration working as a virtual extension of a powerful corporation. Interestingly, however, the latest story is not about Duke Energy. This is from reporter Deon Roberts’ latest story in the Charlotte Observer, “State’s comments about MetLife were drafted by … MetLife” [1]:

“When MetLife announced in January plans to split away from its Charlotte-based U.S. retail operations, the Observer asked the state what that would mean for the local hub.

In response, the N.C. Commerce Department said it valued ‘the strong relationship we’ve built with MetLife,’ which was awarded more than $87 million in state incentives in 2013 to open hubs in Charlotte and Cary. Commerce also told the Observer it looked forward to continuing to build on its relationship with the New York-based insurer.

Turns out it was MetLife who prepared the state’s ‘talking points’ at the request of Gov. Pat McCrory, according to emails obtained by the Observer.

McCrory never used the points, a McCrory spokesman told the Observer last week. But in the statement it sent the Observer, Commerce used some of MetLife’s talking points almost verbatim.”

Roberts goes on to quote a pair of communications professors who raise real concerns about the propriety of the interactions:

“‘It’s a little bit shocking that the government would adopt these first-person statements verbatim,”’said Joseph Cabosky, an assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism….

Dean Kruckeberg, a UNC Charlotte communications professor who has written on public relations ethics, said the MetLife emails concern him – ‘not only as a public relations scholar-educator and ethicist, but even more so as a citizen who has a vital interest in transparency in government and who is concerned about any inordinate hidden influences by special interests.’

He added: ‘Evidence that government officials proactively requested media “talking points” from a special interest, even to the extent that a “potential statement” was proffered, would suggest that transparency is being compromised. I would judge government officials to be culpable.'”

The McCrory administration has been blasted by critics on both the right and left for its economic development policies. Last week, the John Locke Foundation decried the administration’s use of economic incentives (what it called “bribing companies to come here”) in an article [2]. This latest incident, however, seems to indicate a new and troubling level of coziness between the administration and select private businesses. Let’s hope the publicity causes officials to re-think what they’re doing in this area and keep big businesses at arms length where they belong.

Click here [1] to read the entire Observer story.