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

Here’s an event that will be worth your time to check out tomorrow (Thursday) evening:

The Health of North Carolina’s Democracy
Threats to Voting Rights & Impartial Courts

Brought to you by North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, Democracy North Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Legal Progress, a project of The Center for American Progress

Thursday, October 29th 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh
3313 Wade Avenue – Raleigh, NC 27607

Join us for a screening of the mini-documentary

“Dirty Water, Dirty Money: Coal Ash and the Attack on North Carolina’s Courts”
on the real impact of special interest money on North Carolina’s judiciary.

Following the screening, North Carolina elected officials and policymakers will participate in a panel discussion on how voting rights, money in politics, and fair courts impact the health of North Carolina’s democracy. Featuring:

  • Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-57, Greensboro)
  • Anita Earls – Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Chris Kromm – Executive Director, Institute for Southern Studies

Please don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about making North Carolina’s democracy work for everyone – not just the wealthy and well-connected!

Please RSVP by clicking here.
For more information, contact or (202) 495-3698

Commentary, News

Good government and clean elections watchdog Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina issued a strong statement this morning condemning the bill passed by state lawmakers this week to move the state’s 2016 primary election to March. As Hall explains, the bill also contains “an unrelated terrible section that will greatly expand pay-to-play politics in North Carolina.” This is from the statement:

Section 3 of H-373 calls these slush funds “affiliated party committees,” but they are actually bank accounts completely controlled by one person – either the House Speaker, Senate President Pro Tem, or the House or Senate minority party leader. No money may be “expended except when authorized by the leader.”

Unlike a legislator’s campaign account, these new slush funds can accept limitless donations from lobbyists or corporations, even while the legislature is in session. Duke Energy, hog barons, gambling interests or a private contractor could pour money into a fund as a key bill is being debated. The money can be used to help elect or defeat candidates or for “daily operations” deemed relevant to the leader.

These changes take us backwards. They undercut the reforms adopted after the deal-making scandals involving House Speaker Jim Black a decade ago. They give wealthy special interests new ways to dominate NC politics. And they create new ways for legislative leaders to sell access, steer money into their pet causes, and exert control over other legislators.

Gov. Pat McCrory should veto this corrosive expansion of power for elites in the General Assembly. As a candidate, he pledged to fight pay-to-play politics and corruption. Now he has the opportunity to show leadership by vetoing this bill and calling for new legislation that only changes the primary election date.

Here are links to the bill and legislative staff’s summary:

Here are two news stories about the changes:

Commentary, News

If you weren’t able to attend NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation with the Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina, that full program is now available online.

This week’s event featured watchdog Bob Hall discussing the large and potentially illegal campaign contributions from individuals affiliated with the controversial “sweepstakes” industry to some of North Carolina’s top elected officials.

Please watch and then share this special presentation as Hall discusses his findings, what Democracy NC is asking prosecutors to do, and the overall state of political corruption in North Carolina politics today.

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The State Board of Elections - Foley on the left, Howard in the center.

The State Board of Elections – Paul Foley on the left, Chairman Josh Howard in the center.

The scandal surrounding the forced, late night resignation of State Board of Elections member Paul Foley has given rise to some pretty creative wordsmithing by SBOE chair Josh Howard. How else to explain these two facts from this story by the Raleigh News & Observer’s Craig Jarvis:

#1- Foley lied repeatedly about his knowledge of his law firm’s representation of a controversial video sweepstakes business. He even did it publicly on Wednesday during an SBOE meeting.

#2 – When Foley decided finally to resign late Wednesday night, Howard issued a statement in which he said, among other things, “There has been no finding of wrongdoing by Mr. Foley….”

I suppose Howard’s claim is technically true in some sense — no official investigator has, apparently,  yet, made any formal finding that Foley violated any laws. But good grief, the man out and out lied to Howard and the rest of the Board and the public about a highly important matter just hours before he resigned. That would seem to be an obvious and blatant bit of wrongdoing that Howard would have to be a complete nincompoop not to see.

All of which makes a citizen wonder what else Foley lied about during his stint on the Board and what other acts Chairman Howard and his colleagues are carefully parsing their words over.

Good government watchdog Bob Hall told Jarvis:

“I’ve never seen a board member, Republican or Democrat, so miserably fail to recognize their duty to serve the public interest, rather than a selfish business or partisan interest. The State Board of Elections had no hope of being a credible agency if Foley continued to serve and be accepted as a member by his peers.”

Howard’s carefully worded statement is enough to make a person wonder whether Hall was being extremely charitable.