Governor McCrory's Blind Spots on Ethics

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Coming on the heels of the disclosure of $13,000 in previously unreported travel by Governor McCrory this week, Ned Barnett of the News and Observer takes McCrory to task for what he calls, “McCrory’s blind spots on ethics.” 

From the column,

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.

“People are fed up with the culture of state government, a culture of inaccessibility, a culture of the leaders being invisible, (a) culture of secrecy, and sadly a culture of corruption,” McCrory said at a campaign event in Brunswick County in September 2008.

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.

Last week, McCrory stumbled for a third time over proper disclosure on state ethics forms. In response to a complaint from the liberal advocacy group, Progress N.C. Action, McCrory had to amend his forms to show seven previously unreported trips in 2013 valued at about $13,000.

The trips involved McCrory’s attendance at meetings of the National Governors Association, the Republican Governors Association and the Southern Governors Association. Those may sound like part of a governor’s official travels, and McCrory and his legal advisers apparently thought they didn’t need to be reported even though others covered the governor’s expenses. But some of these meetings can be lavish affairs with special interests lining up make their pitches to a state’s chief executive.

The New York Times has reported that corporations gave undisclosed donations of $250,000 each to the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee in return for access. The Democratic Governors Association collects similar donations. It doesn’t sound right, but it’s legal. Perhaps it’s too much to ask that McCrory avoid such gatherings, but he should at least report the value of his covered expenses when he goes.

Exposing the unreported trips was Progress N.C. Action’s second hit against the governor. Earlier, it filed a complaint with the N.C. Ethics Commission over McCrory’s failure to report stock holdings in Duke Energy, his role in a company owned by his brother and delayed income he received from serving on the board of Tree.com, the corporate parent of the online lender, Lending Tree. McCrory says he severed ties with Tree.com before becoming governor, but the company, which is subject to state banking regulators appointed by the governor, paid McCrory $185,509 after his inauguration in January of 2013. The Ethics Commission is considering the complaints. McCrory could ask that the review process be open, but he hasn’t.

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. During his years as Charlotte’s mayor, he was also an employee of Duke Power, now Duke Energy. Afterward, although not a lawyer, he worked for Moore & Van Allen, a Charlotte law firm that is often engaged in lobbying. Representatives of Moore & Van Allen delivered most of $235,000 in campaign contributions given to McCrory, the state Republican Party and lawmakers of both parties by an Oklahoma sweepstakes software provider, Chase Burns. Burns, who was pushing for North Carolina to legalize Internet sweepstakes, was later indicted in Florida and Oklahoma on charges of racketeering involving illegal gambling and pleaded no contest to two felonies.

 

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