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Thom TillisIn North Carolina, state laws written in the post-Jim Black era (see in particular G.S. 138A-32) make it illegal for lobbyists to give anything of value to state legislators. As a general matter, the state has a “no cup of coffee” rule; lobbyists can’t buy legislators a round of golf or a lunch or even a mocha latte.

Unfortunately, there remain lots of ways around this prohibition in which lobbyists can funnel cash to powerful politicians. And make no mistake, many politicians aren’t shy about explaining this to lobbyists.

Consider the latest fundraising solicitation from House Speaker Thom Tillis (pictured at left) and the North Carolina Republican House Caucus.

After inviting all-comers to pay up to $10,000 to get 12 admission tickets and a special photo opportunity with House leaders at the group’s 2013 “Opening Day Celebration” tomorrow, the solicitation says the following: Read More

The NC House and Senate gather in Raleigh Wednesday for a one-day meeting to elect officers and adopt rules for the 2013 session. The organizational gathering will allow the members to “hit the ground running” when they reconvene on January 30th.

The one-day session was also part of the motivation for Pat McCrory taking the oath of office last Saturday. McCrory wanted to officially be North Carolina’s Governor when lawmakers came to town.

Jane Pinsky with NC Coalition for Government and Lobbying Reform says while the capital city is filled with plenty of new political faces, she is hopeful there will be greater transparency in both Gov. McCrory’s administration and the new General Assembly.

Pinsky shared her thoughts on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon. Click below for a portion of that radio interview, or download a podcast of the full segment from the NC Policy Watch website:

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We published this report yesterday about a school choice group that paid for N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to learn about a controversial tax credit scholarship program in Miami.

A big unanswered question is whether the trip is allowed under North Carolina’s strict lobbying laws, which ban lobbyists from giving anything of value under most situations.

The crux seems to be what the purpose of the trip was — if it was to educate, then it’s okay. But if the trip’s goal was to influence lawmakers, then it’s not an allowable exception to the gift ban.

Bob Phillips of the government watchdog group Common Cause said he believes the trip violates ethics laws.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina maintains the trip was okay, because it was an educational trip about the Florida program that gives companies state credits when they donate money to send low-income children to private schools. The program worries many supporters of public education, because it diverts needed tax revenue away from public schools to a private school system that isn’t accountable to taxpayers.

The group has made no secret that it wants to bring the program here, and PEFNC director Darrell Allison said in a podcast on an education reform website that the Florida trip could lead to the North Carolina General Assembly bringing the tax credit program here.

Allison justified the trip in March with a 2008 ethics advisory letter it got for a different trip to Florida, but did not seek prior clearance from the State Ethics Commission for the March trip.

I asked PEFNC for a copy of that 2008 advisory letter on May 2, but was never provided a copy.

Allison did give a copy to WRAL’s Mark Binker yesterday, and you can see the letter here, as well as the entire WRAL post here. (And, to throw up one more link, you can also see some of the public records related to the trip that I used here.)

The advisory letter clearly show that PEFNC got the okay for the 2008 trip, but is limited to only that trip.

From the 2008 letter:

PEFNC will need to report the total amount it spends for this trip on it (sic) lobbyist principal report that it is required to file with the Secretary of State’s Office because, as we discussed, as well as being educational this trip is also to influence these participating legislators to support legislation in North Carolina similar to the Florida legislation that established tax credits for these special needs schools, known as the McKay Scholarship Schools.

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