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PPD executive Fred Eshelman rings the NASDAQ bell Thursday morning, a carefully orchestrated media event to mark the PPD’s 25th anniversary (optional confetti $500, balloon drop $4,000). If the name Eshelman rings a bell it’s because he’s the force and the finance behind RightChange.com a conservative political committee active in the 2008 races run with NC State Senator Fletcher Hartsell and State Representative Jeff Barnhart of Cabarrus County. Their most recent contribution to political dialog was “Attack of the 50 Ft Pelosi”, a cartoon world where Democrats have long skinny necks and Conservatives have none.

In the past 10 years PPD has been awarded over $600,000,000 in federal government grants and contracts. Between 2006 and 2008 Cabarrus Community Health, of which Hartsell is the founder and Barnhart is the Director, received $1.9 million in federal grants. These benefits do not appear to constrain RightChange’s founders from railing against government spending.

Now Eshelman has teamed up with Durham attorney John W. Marin and Lumberton businessman Murchison “Bo” Biggs to create a North Carolina focused conservative attack machine called “Real Jobs NC, Inc”. Biggs is a veteran of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association and a director of the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation.

There has been little visible activity since filing in May with both the IRS as a 527 political committee and NC Secretary of State as a non-profit corporation. Real Jobs NC has acquired some domain names and while the sites are apparently inactive, one domain is running a test site in a sub-folder*.

The principal office of the corporation Real Jobs NC, Inc is listed as 3901 Barrett Drive, Suite 202, Raleigh. While domain name registration for RealJobsNC.com and RealJobsNC.net are private, the domain name registration for RealJobsNC.org lists Calvin Kirven of Continental Communications as the registrant and admin with a mailing address of PO Box 20875, Raleigh NC 27619.

Continental Communications is a public relations and association management firm with an address at 3901 Barrett Drive, Suite 202, Raleigh and the same PO Box for mailing. The mailing address and the physical address are also those of the NC Landscape Contractor’s Registration Board of which Kirven is the Executive Director. It seems highly irregular that the offices of a State Board also house a political committee.

The test website of Real Jobs NC* provides some insight with rhetoric about tax burdens and free enterprise in NC. One link points to a poll targeting Representative Cullie Tarleton by Carolina Strategy Group, a political consulting firm started by Representative Barnhart, Republican consultants Paul Shumaker of Granite Falls, Mark Lisella of South Carolina, and Raleigh attorney/lobbyist Roger Knight. Barnhart is still listed as the group’s registered agent though an incomplete filing by Knight strikes Barnhart’s name and lists the address of Shumaker’s Raleigh office. In prior filings with the Ethics Commission Barnhart noted his connection to lobbyist Roger Knight but more recently has dropped any reference to Carolina Strategy Group.

In another curious filing in May Eshelman, Hartsell and Barnhart registered another NC corporation called RightChange.com II. The listed agent is Paula Hopper a Durham attorney/lobbyist. This is distinct from the entities RightChange.com, Inc. and RightChange.com Political Action Committee, Inc.

The Real Jobs NC site claims that:

“Government doesn’t create jobs – businesses do. If government purports to create a job – it only does it with money taken from individuals and businesses in the form of taxes.”

Perhaps after Fred Eshelman rings the NASDAQ bell PPD will magnanimously return the more than $600,000,000 received from the government so that we can create some more real jobs in NC and not off-shored to the 41 countries that PPD operates in.

*Update:
Since the original posting, the Real Jobs NC website has been password protected. In anticipation of this screen-shots of selected pages were saved:
    Home: Why Real Jobs NC?
    About
    Solving The Problem
    Donate

    

The Long Road to Brown, the Long Road Beyond is a 2008 documentary by the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina. The film uses oral histories and other sources to trace the long history of segregation in America’s public schools and, North Carolina Schools in particular, from 1865 through 2008.

The video is split into four sections below. The fourth and final section of the documentary covers 1970′s and Jesse Helms through to present day school integration:

From Desegregation to Resegregation: 1969-2008 (part 2)
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The Truth Squad appeared on the political radar in 2008. The Truth Squad is a 527 Political Committee set up by C. Stan Eury, head of the NC Growers Association which is the nation’s largest employer of legal migrant workers and the largest agricultural employer in NC. The 527′s activity was initially limited to attacking Republican State Senate candidate David Rouzer in a local feud related to immigration law.

On November 3rd, 2008, the day before Election Day, a 1/4 page ad ran in the Raleigh News & Observer obviously supporting Steve Troxler for NC Commissioner of Agriculture, paid for by The Truth Squad. The NC Commissioner of Agriculture election is a statewide race. No reports have ever been made to the State Board of Elections by The Truth Squad.

A report filed with the IRS shows that The Truth Squad took in $19,200 on late October 2008, most of it coming directly from the NC Growers Association ($12,800 10/29) and Carolina Farm Credit, ACA ($5,000 10/21). On 10/29, $14,919 was spent on newspaper ads “to help elect Steve Troxler for NC Commissioner of Agriculture”. (Full page ads in the Winston-Salem Journal and the Greensboro News-Record and 1/4 page ads in the Wilmington Star, Fayetteville Observer, Raleigh News & Observer and Durham Herald Sun). The ad walked right up to the line in election law separating information from vote solicitation. In portraying incumbent Troxler as a farmer and challenger Ansley as a lawyer the ad leaned right over that line, leaving no doubt as to whom you should vote for by saying “Ask a Farmer”.

In the Fourth Quarter of 2008 the NC Growers Association PAC reported to the SBOE initial cash on hand of just $1,827. It reported a 9/27 contribution of $1,000 to the campaign of Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. It reported a subsequent 10/13 contribution of $2,000 to the campaign of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler when it apparently only had $827 cash on hand. The PAC reported receiving $17,100 on 10/14 comprised of a total of 855 checks each being equal contributions of $20. Reports made by the NC Growers Association PAC show that no other contributions had been made to the PAC since Fall 2005.

It is unlikely that this late spending could influence either election. It is more likely that it was intended to curry favor with Commissioners who have responsibility and influence related to migrant agricultural labor in North Carolina. The contributions to the 527 are troubling because they demonstrate how easy it is to inject corporate cash into a state or local election. The PAC contributions are unusual because they are improbably numerous, identical in amount, type, date, and well below the threshold for reporting of names, occupations and employers and, because no other contributions were reported. Maybe money does grow on trees and is harvested on a single day.


It was no suprise to see a full page advertisement in the News&Observer this morning advocating Big Pharma’s position on Health Care Reform.  It was suprising to see state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center as one of the sponsors along with GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer HealthCare, Wyeth, Merck, NC Bio, the NC Chamber and PhRMA, (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America). NC BioTech has an annual budget of about $15 million, virtually all of which comes from NC General Appropriations.

The ad is a warning shot to the NC Congressional Delegation about Big Pharma jobs in NC. The superficially supportive but ambiguous message had enough code words surgically implanted in the body of the text to send a clear signal to Capitol Hill and the White House that these players oppose single payer and the public option.

What’s best for patients is what drives our business. That’s why we strongly support health care reform that provides access to affordable coverage for every American and keeps medical decisions in the hands of doctors and patients.
   :::::
Policies that provide incentives for innovation are essential for continued investment and job creation.

Not readily apparent from the ad is that it is part of a national astroturf effort. A fine print reference to archstoneconsulting.com provides a clue.  Archstone Consulting coordinates a national campaign called “We Work for Health” (WWFH), funded by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.  This group has targeted 10 places with major biotech and pharma interests: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia ,Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington.

We Work For Health, NC Coalition Partners are listed as:
* Jeff Brennan – VP Targacept
* Sue Cole – Former President of NC Chamber/ Former Chair of BioTech Center
* Jim Fain – Immediate past Secretary of Department of Commerce
* Bob Ingram – Former Chair/CEO GSK
* Allen Joines – Winston-Salem Mayor/Governor’s Economic Development Board
* Martin Lancaster – Immediate Past President NC Community College System
* Ken Lee – Hatteras Venture Partners
* Harold Martin – Senior VP for Academic Affairs, University of North Carolina
* Charles Sanders – Former Chairman, GSK
* Christy Shaeffer- Inspire Pharmaceuticals
* Sam Taylor – NC Bio
* Norris Tolson- BioTech Center

The WWFH campaign has been running nationwide quietly for several months.  The WWFH NC group’s kick-off was held April at GlaxoSmith Kline RTP headquarters.  The keynote speaker was Richard Burr who claimed that healthcare reform was bad for the drug industry and that effective cost-control by Medicare and Medicaid was to blame for escalating private healthcare costs.

Sophisticated online efforts are being coordinated by 720 Strategies, formerly known as E-Advocates, self-described as “an award-winning, grassroots advocacy and political persuasion firm, specializing in integrated communications campaigns”.  The Company manages about 400 domain names for various integrated online campaigns.  Michael Cornfield of 720 Strategies presents a set of 14 online webinar videos for “grassroots” training in influence of Congress specifically for the WWFH campaign which is also on Twitter.

WWFH Videos include Town Hall: Mastering Town Hall Meetings, Sculpting Facts: How to Carve Argument-Winning Points Out of Data, and most recent, The Time Has Come: Communicating With Congress During the Summer of Health Care Reform.

All of which makes one wonder about the involvement of the NC Biotechnology Center.  At a time when budget cuts are increasing the rolls of underinsured and uninsured people why would a state-funded organization be legitimately advocating against proposals to provide these people with a safety net?