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Steven LaRoque, the former Kinston state lawmaker facing federal charges of stealing from two federally-funded non-profits he ran, will find out this week if a judge agrees the dozen criminal charges in the case should be thrown out.

LaRoque-PC

Steven LaRoque, at a 2011 press conference.

A pre-trial motions hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow at the federal courthouse in Greenville, will be a sealed hearing and closed to the public, according to an order filed by Senior U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard.

LaRoque’s trial – his second, after the first ended in a mistrial because of juror misconduct — is scheduled to begin on Feb. 2.

The Kinston Republican is accused of taking $300,000 for his personal use from an economic development group he ran that was funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural business lending program. LaRoque is also facing accusations that, instead of funding struggling businesses to spur economic growth, he used federal money to offer loans to personal associates and political allies, and then took money to fund his campaign and buy jewelry, replica Faberge eggs and a Greenville ice skating rink.

The federal investigation began shortly after N.C. Policy Watch published a 2011 investigation into LaRoque’s management of the federally-funded non-profits.

LaRoque, a former member of House Republican leadership team, has maintained he is innocent of criminal wrongdoing, and that the money in question was owed to him.

Howard wrote in his Jan. 6 order (scroll down or click here to read) that he is sealing the hearing and closing it to the public in order to hear confidential information that may come up in response to a motion LaRoque filed seeking information about the grand jury that indicted him.

Grand jury proceedings are, by design, secret and details about the inner workings of the groups are very rarely released to the public.

“This hearing will be sealed due to the potential for disclosure of grand jury documents or other materials,” Howard wrote.

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Commentary
Image: Twitter

Image: Twitter

Looking for something about North Carolina of which to be at least semi-proud this morning? Well, here’s something in addition to the recent performance of the Carolina Panthers: at least our ethics laws for elected officials aren’t quite as absurdly toothless as New Jersey’s.

If you’re wondering why this fact as come to light in recent days, check out the story percolating through the news and sports pages about the embarrassingly troubled Governor of the Garden State, Chris “Salmon Sweater” Christie and his bizarre, make-you-cringe-and turn-away-in embarrassment bro-mance with Texas oilman and Dallas Cowboys football team owner, Jerry Jones.

You see, Christie, the Governor of a state with two of its own NFL teams, is for some strange and probably Freudian reason, a fan of the Cowboys and has been accepting free plane rides and tickets to Jones’ luxury box for himself and his family to root on the ‘Boys at big games. (In case you missed it, click here to check out Christie’s embarrassing celebratory performance on video this past Sunday).

So, you ask, how does a public official get away with accepting such expensive gifts from a rich fat cat who actually does business with New Jersey (Jones owns a company that just won a big, fat New York-New Jersey Port Authority contract)? Well, it turns out that there is a Texas-sized exemption in New Jersey’s ethics law that allows such gift to pols from “personal friends.”

We’re not making this up. And frankly, there would probably be a similarly vast exemption in North Carolina law were it not for the state’s brief embrace of semi-serious ethics reform in the aftermath of the Jim Black bribery scandal.

Under our laws, Read More

Commentary

NCVCEFrom the good people at N.C. Voters for Clean Elections:

Fed up with our broken political system?

Estimates suggest about $4 billion will be spent to sway voters during this year’s election, and about $700 million of that will come from dark money groups that don’t disclose their donors.

Does all this spending have you fed up? Now’s your chance to do something about it.

Come to a public forum featuring FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, State Representative Mary Price “Pricey” Harrison (D – 57th), and Chris Kromm, Director of the Institute for Southern Studies. This is a unique opportunity to speak directly to a representative of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the agency charged with protecting the integrity of our elections.

The event will be held on Thursday, October 16 from 6pm to 7:30pm at North Carolina State University (Winston 029) in Raleigh, North Carolina. [Click here to RSVP.]

Commissioner Weintraub, Representative Harrison, and Mr. Kromm look forward to hearing from you. In particular, how can we promote greater disclosure by dark money groups? How can we ensure that elected officials are responsive to average voters and not just multimillionaires? And how can we combat corruption in government?

For more information contact Melissa Price Kromm at melissa@ncvce.org or call at (919) 371-VOTE

Uncategorized

Just in from the watchdogs at Democracy NC (click here to read the entire report):

State Legislators Pile Up $8 Million for Campaigns;
Incumbent Advantage Will Grow with PACs’ “Gratitude Money”

A review of financial reports by the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina shows that state legislators running for reelection have stockpiled more than $8 million in cash for the final months of the 2014 campaign.

Legislators of both parties can also expect a windfall in special-interest donations when the General Assembly adjourns, likely this week, said Bob Hall, director of the nonpartisan group.

The 101 Republican legislators seeking election to the NC House or Senate hold $6.8 million in cash, more than four times as much as the $1.5 million held by the 52 Democrats. (The other 17 legislators are retiring or running for another office, or they were defeated in the primary.)

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) led all lawmakers with $1,015,460 in cash as of June 30, the deadline for the most recent financial report. The next report is not due until late October. Senate Republican Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) is next with $444,267, followed by Democratic Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake) with $347,413.

Because Speaker Thom Tillis is running for the U.S. Senate, the Republicans in the House who have the most cash are Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) with $251,573 and Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) with $246,216. Both men have Democratic opponents in the general election, but neither challenger had more $9,000 as of June 30.

“The combination of big-money fundraising and highly partisan redistricting means we’re seeing less competition in general elections,” said Hall “It’s hard to hold legislators accountable when they don’t have competition.”

Of the 153 legislators seeking reelection, 74 – or nearly half of them – face no opposition from the other major party. Read More

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Patrick Cannon2Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon’s arrest on bribery charges yesterday is, of course, just the latest in a long line such events in modern American (and North Carolina) history. Indeed, political corruption arrests and prosecutions are such a part of our story that one can easily spend the day perusing lists of political crooks that have been complied by various media outlets and good government websites.

Here, therefore, to save you from that temptation, are a few of the most recent and interesting lists:

First off, it’s worth noting that, thanks to the FBI, Cannon is part of a list of politicians arrested yesterday. As the Washington Post reports, FBI stings also reeled in a California state senator and a New York assemblyman.

Wikipedia, quite helpfully, has three lists – one for federal politicians, one for state and local and one entitled “List of state and local political scandals.” The second list is also organized by state  and North Carolina – home to Stephen LaRoque, Jim Black and Meg Scott Phipps — holds its own but doesn’t really stand out.  As is often the case with Wikipedia though, all three are incomplete. Perhaps you can suggest an addition or two.

And if you think things are bad here, check out this list published in the New York Times last year entitled “The Many Faces of State Political Scandals,” which features 32 New York officials convicted of a crime, censured or otherwise accused of wrongdoing over the past seven years, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. Read More