Archives

News

The N.C. Ethics Commission opted Friday to levy fines against 20 people serving on state boards who filed their annual statements of economic interest late.

The forms, which required individuals to divulge the financial interests of themselves and family members living in their home, are supposed to be filed by April 15. The N.C. Ethics Commission, which met on Friday in downtown Raleigh, received more than 6,000 forms this year, which are available via the Internet this year through a searchable database. (Click here to access.)

Among those fined were Atlantic Beach mayor A.B. “Trace” Cooper III; Elbert Richardson, the mayor of Troutman in Iredell County; and Kory Swanson, the president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

No statewide elected officials or lawmakers faced fines.

Cooper and Richardson were both fined $500 each, for delinquent filings of both their economic interest forms as well as a disclosure form for real estate holdings required for those who sit on regional transportation boards. Cooper, who filed his forms on Aug. 6, is a member of the Down East Rural Transportation Planning Organization. Richardson is a member of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization and has yet to file his required ethics forms.

State law also required the ethics commission to refer the cases of Cooper, Richardson and four others on regional transportation boards to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Swanson, the John Locke Foundation president, serves on the state’s Seafood Industrial Park Authority, which requires him to file an annual statement of economic interest. Records with the state ethics show he filed a “no change form” on June 24, more than two months late. He was fined $250.

Others who filed their forms late included members of the environmental management commission, N.C. Medical Board, Board of Opticians and two superior court judges.

The ethics commission opted to waive fines for several people who filed late, but who had contacted the Ethics Commission and explained extenuating circumstances, like illnesses or extensive out-of-the-country travel.

 

News

Note: This post has been updated to include comment from Moore’s legislative office.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore has a new job, after he was hired this week to serve as the attorney for Cleveland County, where he lives.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

One of his tasks in the county position will be to “[a]dvise the Board and Manager on proposed legislation,” according to a copy of Moore’s contract, which was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

That could raise questions about whether the new job poses a conflict of interest for Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican. As head of the state House of Representatives, Moore has considerable influence and insider knowledge about state budget negotiations as well as other pieces of state legislation that affect counties around the state.

Moore’s legislative staff said that his county-based job will be limited to offering advice on proposed legislation in the county, and not any state legislation.

The House Speaker job tends to be a time-consuming one, though all members of the legislature are considered part-time lawmakers with many still running businesses or going to jobs in their home districts. Moore makes $38,151 a year as House Speaker.

The Shelby Star noted that when Moore was hired Tuesday at a county commission meeting, he made reference to his position in the state legislature.

“Moore joked about having another job that gave him ‘some insight’ about what is going on in the state and communities but still had a law practice to keep up,” the Shelby Star wrote in an article about Moore’s hiring.

State ethics law prevents those in public positions, like lawmakers, from using their public position to bring “financial benefit to the covered person or legislative employee, a member of the covered person’s or legislative employee’s extended family, or business with which the covered person or legislative employee is associated.”

Clayton Somers, Moore’s chief of staff, said Friday afternoon that Moore sought an informal ethics opinion before taking the job, and that the legislation referred to in the contract was only county-based proposals, not state legislation.

“He is not going to advise the county on any state legislation,” Somers said.

Moore will receive a $25,000 annual retainer, and will bill the county $250 an hour for whatever work he does serving as the legal adviser to the county commission, according to a copy of his contract obtained from Cleveland County by N.C. Policy Watch.

The job will require Moore to attend commission meetings, consult with the county commission and county manager as needed and prepare legal documents and contracts, in addition to offering advice about pending legislation.

“It just doesn’t look good,” said Jane Pinsky, the head of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, about Moore’s new contract employee job with the county.

Even if the arrangement is legal and Moore operates in an ethical manner, it can still leave the public with the impression that those in political power are able to easily secure jobs because of their public roles, she said.

“It’s one more thing that people think if you’re one of the good old boys, there’s a benefit to that,” Pinsky said.

Commentary

In case you missed them over the weekend, there were at least two worth-your-time reads that raised more questions about the openness and transparency of a Governor who had promised to set new standards in those areas.

Number One is a fine essay by Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “McCrory’s blind spot on ethics.” In it, Barnett rightfully takes the Governor to task for the yawning gap between some of his previous campaign rhetoric and the performance of his administration. Here are some excerpts:

“In his first run for governor in 2008, Pat McCrory fixed on a theme that would prove successful in his second try in 2012. He ran against what he considered the cloaked and unethical conduct of Democrats too long in power….

Now, in the third year of his first term, the words and theme of candidate McCrory have an odd resonance. There’s no evidence that Gov. McCrory has abused his powers, but there is also no evidence that he’s doing much to prevent abuses or dispel the appearance of potential abuses. This ‘reform’ governor is strangely cavalier when it comes to situations that raise ethical questions.”

After reviewing a long list a McCrory ethical lapses, Barnett puts it this way:

“McCrory says he’s getting tripped up because he has been in business rather than being exclusively a public servant. But it hardly seems a case of good-government sticklers picking on private-sector Pat. Rather, McCrory has made a living by mingling his public and private roles and now seems oblivious as to where one ends and the other begins.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Number Two is a brief AP news story in the Fayetteville Observer yesterday entitled “McCrory record seekers met with delays, demands for payments.” As the story reports: Read More

Commentary

Gov. Pat McCrory’s hometown newspaper is out with another blistering editorial directed at the man whose campaign it endorsed in 2012. Today’s subject is the Guv’s inexplicable difficulty in filling out state ethics forms. In an editorial entitled “Those baffling ethics N.C. forms,” the Charlotte Observer puts it this way:

“What is going on in Gov. Pat McCrory’s office? Why do he and his lawyers keep having such a hard time filling out ethics forms correctly?

McCrory was forced to change his state disclosure reports on Monday when it was revealed that he had failed, again, to disclose required information….

Were this the only instance of McCrory filling out ethics forms improperly, it would be worth minimal notice. But it is not. It is a pattern with the McCrory administration: Fill out the ethics form incorrectly, have the ethics commission admonish you for that, then claim that it was an innocent misinterpretation of the form.

For instance, McCrory said on his ethics form that he didn’t own any Duke Energy stock on Dec. 31, 2013, when in fact he did….

McCrory similarly failed to fully disclose on his ethics forms compensation he received from Tree.com as a company director. Again, an unclear form, the governor’s office said.

Partisans are dismissing the latest charge as a political witch hunt by a liberal group. That the complaint came from Progress NC Action does give it a political tint.

But voters should consider the facts and decide whether they are OK with error-filled ethics forms from elected officials of either party. And McCrory should do more to fulfill his campaign promise of leading a clean and transparent administration.”

As noted in this space the other day, the best solution for problems like McCrory’s most recent failure to disclose corporate-funded “scholarships” to fancy gatherings of governors would be for the state to simply bar such gifts. In the meantime, though, the least the Guv can do is tell the truth in a timely fashion.

Commentary

McCrory_budget4Governor McCrory amended his state ethics report today even as advocates at Progress NC blasted his previous failure to submit accurate reports as required by state law. In submitting the new and improved disclosures about the Guv’s trips to corporate-sponsored confabs of various governors’ associations, McCrory’s lawyer Bob Stephens — who sure seems to be having a hard time keeping up with laws that have been on the books for quite a while — stated that: “It is entirely appropriate for the RGA, NGA and SGA to pay travel expenditures for the Governor and staff to attend these meetings.”

To which, all a person who cares about our state and the integrity of its elected leaders can say is:

Why? Why is it appropriate for corporate-funded private organizations to pay to wing our public officials to swanky resorts and put them up in style?

If it is legal as Mr. Stephens contends, it’s an absurd and truck-sized gap in the state gift ban passed in the aftermath of the Jim Black scandal.

Here’s a radical concept and two-part solution that North Carolina ought to pursue to prevent such conflicts in the future:

1) Enact a law that makes it clear that when public officials are representing our state in or out of North Carolina in anything other than a partisan/election-related event, they must travel at public expense.

2) Pass an appropriation that gives officials like McCrory a travel budget to which they need to stick.

This way, a) officials can budget their time and expenses like just about everyone else and b) we won’t have to worry about our them feeling beholden to anyone other than the taxpayers.