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The national embarrassments just keep on a comin’ for North Carolina.  Political writer Olivia Nuzzi of the national website The Daily Beast is the latest to make light of how far things have sunk in the Old North State with this column entitled: “North Carolina Lobbyists Can Officially Screw Politicians Legally.”

As Nuzzi explains:

Yes, what could go wrong?

Joal H. Broun, the secretary of state’s lobbying compliance director, sent a letter to the commission on December 15 inquiring whether, um, intimacy between lobbyists and the people they are lobbying violates ethics laws. On Friday, the commission released its answer: The passionate and unwise may carry on!

The opinion, which is almost romantic if you can get past the legal jargon, essentially says that your body is a temple and sharing it with anyone else is a priceless gift—emphasis on priceless: Sex has no value, according to the commission, and so it doesn’t need to be disclosed.

“Consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not reportable as gifts or ‘reportable expenditures made for lobbying’ for purposes of the lobbying law’s expenditure reporting provisions,” the commission says.

It’s difficult to read that without squinting skeptically, but consider how difficult it would be to disclose a sexual relationship as a gift. Would different acts carry different weight? Isn’t that really subjective? Things would get complicated quickly….

Click here to read the entire article.

Commentary
House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore

It’s been déjà vu all over again this week in Raleigh. Two weeks ago, right before what seemed at the time to be the one and only “first” day of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers crammed in some last minute fundraising just hours before the session began.

The details of all this are a smidge complex. State law bars lobbyists from making contributions to candidates and their committee at any time, but of course, some folks don’t register as lobbyists until after the session commences. The law also effectively bars lobbyists from making any kind of contributions (even to party committees) once the General Assembly is in session. The bottom line though is that the law provides a real incentive for lawmakers to stick up the lobbying community right before the gavel sounds to open the session.

This week, however, just a few days later, the whole absurd spectacle was repeated. This past Tuesday night for instance, House Speaker Tim Moore hosted a “2015 Opening Day Celebration” at the City Club in downtown Raleigh to shake down the lobbying corps yet again.

So, “how’d he pull that off?” you ask. “Aren’t such fundraisers effectively barred once the session gets underway?”

Well, it turns out that when legislators went home on January 14, they technically “adjourned” — even though Moore has been busy appointing committee chairs and all sorts of legislative activity has been taking place. This fiction of “adjournment” allowed lawmakers to claim that they were not in session so that they could go back to collecting cash from people and groups with business before the G.A.

The House GOP fundraiser announcement even contained the following not-so-subtle reminder in fine print at the bottom: “Lobbyists registered in North Carolina are not prohibited from contributing to the NC Republican House Caucus.”

Indeed, as it turned out, Tuesday was a fine day for lobbyists to pony up. Just hours before the City Club soirée, Read More

News

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.

Read More

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