David Lewis

Rep. David Lewis

Not that we needed one, but this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer offers yet another reminder of how state budgets are put together in Raleigh these days. As the story written by Patrick Gannon of The Insider details, Rep. David Lewis, the powerful chair of the House Rules Committee “took significant steps in this year’s legislative session to protect the state contract of a friend and campaign donor” by “tucking language into a technical corrections bill that became law in the final minutes of the session – ensured that contracts for those services would continue to be bid out to the private sector when they expire next year.”

In other words, a law was written secretly in the dead of the night to protect a campaign donor with no public sunlight or input.

Now, consider this fact in the light of yesterday’s edition of the Fitzsimon File, in which Chris reviews thePat McCrory press event expressed position of Gov. McCrory on such shenanigans in 2008, during his first run for Governor. As Chris notes, McCrory promised “to veto any state budget that includes items added in private sessions and not included by the House or Senate during the regular budget process.”

Sadly, of course, as Chris also notes, “Virtually every budget McCrory has signed would qualify for a veto under that promise but he has signed every one of them.”

Obviously, as occurred with his infamous repudiations of his 2012 promise to approve no further restrictions on access to abortion services, something changed between the 2008 campaign and McCrory becoming Governor in 2013 and it wasn’t good.

It’s too bad. Some of those 2008 promises made a lot of sense.


Pat McCrory 4Got a traffic problem in your neighborhood? No problem, just call Gov. McCrory!

In case you missed it over the weekend, Raleigh’s News & Observer has yet another story about a campaign contributor to Pat McCrory getting special treatment. In this case, it appears a new Highway Patrol campaign to crack down on sleeping truckers was spurred by complaints from the owner of a winery (and McCrory campaign contributor) who kept seeing sleeping truckers parked along the highway exit he uses in Surry County. This is from “McCrory donor sparked Highway Patrol campaign against napping truckers”:

“[Charlie] Shelton says he met with McCrory in February or early March to express concern about truckers who park along the ramps up and down I-77.

‘It’s unsightly,’ Shelton, 80, said in an interview. “It’s against the law to park a tractor-trailer and go to sleep there and throw your trash out on the road. …

‘I asked to talk with him about it, and I spent a little time explaining it to him. And that’s when he got the troopers involved and the DOT involved.’

Of course, none of this is at all surprising. North Carolinians have long known that fat cat political contributors get special access to a lot of politicians and McCrory is clearly no exception. Still, the stories coming out of the Guv’s office of late are so blatant and, well, small-time (can’t the man at least save his interventions for something a little more weighty than a penny ante prison contract and traffic on a highway exit ramp?) as to be almost pathetic.

The bottom line: North Carolina must get back on the road to public campaign financing that it was traveling before Republicans took power five years ago. The only way to break the stranglehold that big money has on our political and lawmaking processes and to put an end to the kind of embarrassing corruption stories that keep emanating from the McCrory administration is to have voter owned elections. Let’s hope it doesn’t require criminal justice system involvement of the kind that sent former Speaker Jim Black to jail to make such change a reality.

Click here to read the entire N&O story.

Barney Fife

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The editorial page of Moore County’s The Pilot newspaper featured an excellent editorial this week on the brewing controversy/scandal surrounding Gov. Pat McCrory’s intervention to help a campaign donor and friend secure a prison contract. The editorial compares McCrory to the comic character Barney Fife from the old Andy Griffith show.

This is from “A Troubling Kind of Give-and-Take”:

“There sure was some wide-eyed optimism spouting from Pat McCrory when he ran for governor in 2012. He promised an end to politics as usual — a revolving-door relationship between elected officials and the lobbyists who earn their keep by getting fat contracts or concessions for those whom they serve.

McCrory pledged to end such lucrative pathways and hailed his Republican administration for its new way of doing things.

And yet, when just this very sort of pay-to-play relationship fell at the feet of the governor himself recently, what was his counterpunch? For a governor who prides himself on being a leader and man of integrity, did he own up to his failings?

Hardly. Instead, he tried to shoot the messenger. He took aim at The News & Observer of Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer for printing an investigative piece detailing how well he looked after his old Charlotte friends’ business ventures rather than the best interests of North Carolina taxpayers.”

The editorial goes on to describe the Guv as having acted “wrongly and unethically” in the matter and to lament his behavior since it came to light — that is, attacking the journalists who uncovered the matter:

“Predictably, McCrory followed up his denial with accusations that the liberal News & Observer was out to get him. But since the story was so well-sourced — with text messages and emails from McCrory’s own staff — the governor was left whining about photo composition and headline writing.

We are pretty sure that past Democratic politicians, such as Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue and Jim Black, offered the same blame-the-media strategy in the midst of their own pay-to-play scandals, and look how it worked out for them.

McCrory promised to be the new sheriff in town — but instead of Andy Taylor, North Carolina got Barney Fife, his shaky revolver hand and his single bullet.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Bob Hall

Democracy NC Executive Director Bob Hall speaks to the media in front of posters documenting sweepstakes industry contributions to Gov. McCrory, Senator Phil Berger and former Speaker Thom Tillis in August.

Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman is investigating the ties between gambling industry executives and some important state political leaders and has asked the FBI for assistance. The news comes months after the State Board of Elections chose not to pursue the matter further following a lengthy but incomplete investigation.

For those who may have forgotten, here is what advocates at the government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina had to say in the aftermath of the State Board’s decision this past summer when they called on Freeman and U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker to investigate “possible criminal violations involving the sweepstakes gaming industry, lobbyists and candidates in the 2012 election, including Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and then House Speaker Thom Tillis”:

“After two years, the State Board of Elections voted on July 15, 2015, not to find or pursue any violations related to North Carolina’s campaign finance statutes. However, a number of findings in the report prepared by the staff reinforce my concern about illegal acts.

These include:

  • One lobbyist (Tommy Sevier of Moore & Van Allen) admitted he delivered bundled contributions on two occasions (pages 29-30 of the
    SBE report).
  • Bank account records of the Chase Burns Trust showed millions of dollars transferred from his IIT sweepstake software corporation into the Trust’s account, which was used to write $274,000 in campaign contributions to dozens of legislators and others, making the Burns
    Trust the top campaign donor to NC candidates in the 2012 election cycle (pages 9-15 of the SBE report).
  • The contributions written from the Chase Burns Trust roughly follow the recommendations in a memo titled “IIT Political Contribution Strategy” that was prepared by lobbyists at Moore & Van Allen, the firm retained not by Burns personally but by his sweepstakes’ corporation, IIT (Exhibit 2 of the SBE report).
  • The IIT corporation collected a 3% surcharge on sweepstakes parlor owners it serviced for a political and lobbying fund. A different but somewhat similar arrangement in Florida included allocating part of the surcharge for campaign donations, but Board staff did not find a similar link to donations in the NC arrangement (pages 32 of the SBE report).
  • Gardner Payne, a major sweepstakes operator, “talked about raising money from the sweepstakes industry for Governor McCrory” during a meeting where the two men discussed ways to legalize the sweepstakes industry (pages 32 of the SBE report). Read More

If there’s yet to be a nonpartisan defense of Governor Pat McCrory’s behavior in the festering prison-contractor controversy, it sure has been hard to find.

Two days ago, his hometown newspaper (which endorsed him in 2012) called McCrory’s explanation his “latest dog ate my homework excuse” and essentially blasted his claim that he was in a “side conversation” when Graeme Keith made his explicit quid pro quo pitch as unbelievable.

This morning, the Greensboro News & Record termed his response to the story “unconvincing” and said the following:

“The governor’s response does not show that nothing improper or illegal was done. More investigation is needed to make such determinations. The appearance of impropriety is strong, however. If the governor arranges a high-level meeting on behalf of a donor who wants a state contract, that looks like the sort of pay-to-play access that has gotten politicians, such as former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, in trouble in the past.”

But one of the most damning critiques of McCrory’s behavior and explanation comes from veteran arch-conservative politico Carter Wrenn. As Wrenn wrote on the blog he co-authors with veteran Democrat Gary Pearce yesterday:

“There were nine people in the room when the Governor and the donor met with Prisons Department officials and according to the newspaper, right off, the donor, Graeme Keith, said he’d given a lot of money and it was time he got something in return.

Keith later said he’d never said any such thing but four prison department officials said he had and the Department Secretary, who’s a retired FBI agent, who was sitting at the table said he heard Keith say it, himself, and that Keith said the same thing to him two other times – once in another meeting and once on the phone.

The Governor told the newspaper he didn’t hear Keith say it but added he believed the Prison Department folks were telling the truth….

Graeme Keith got his contract from the Prisons Department and there’s been a lot of squabbling over whether it was a good deal or a bad deal for the state but, at the end of the day, only one fact matters: Did Keith really say he’d made his donations and now it was time for the quid pro quo? Because if he did, that should have been the end of that meeting. And of that contract.”