The Follies

The Follies

- in Fitzsimon File


More questions about ethics and new economic development nonprofit

There are still many questions about Governor Pat McCrory’s plan to turn over the state’s economic development efforts to a private nonprofit, a strategy that has caused numerous problems in other states that have tried it.

But McCrory’s Commerce officials are pushing ahead, despite some measure of skepticism from Senate leaders. One of the problems in other states has been ethical conflicts of people involved in recruiting companies and negotiating lucrative incentive deals.

Sen. Brent Jackson asked at a committee meeting this week if the new nonprofit would be subject to the State Ethics Act. The CEO of the private nonprofit, Richard Lindenmuth, said that issue was still under negotiation and that he didn’t think any of the people involved with the new organization “intend to be less that truly ethical.”

That’s reassuring. Lindenmuth himself is working under a personal services contract and therefore does not have to disclose his own financial interests under the ethics act—which is absurd. If he wants to be “truly ethical,” he should file the statement on his own before he starts putting together deals to give taxpayer money to private corporations.

The board should be covered too. If that causes too many problems, maybe that’s a sign that privatizing economic development isn’t such a good idea in the first place.

Following one law and violating the spirit of another

Speaking of ethics laws, House Speaker Thom Tillis continues to find himself in a sticky situation as he fundraises for his run for the U.S. Senate. Tillis, like all Senate candidates, is spending a lot of time raising money—some of it from lobbyists with interests before the General Assembly where Tillis runs the House.

It is against the law for state lawmakers to raise money from lobbyists for their legislative campaigns but Tillis is raising it for a Senate run. That’s not illegal but it raises serious questions and prompted a front page story Friday in the News & Observer detailing the money Tillis is receiving from lobbyists registered at the General Assembly.

Tillis’ spokesperson Jordan Shaw responded to questions about the fundraising by saying that “Speaker Tillis has handled complicated legislative issues by bringing all stakeholders to the table and allowing the legislative process to determine the best outcome.”

Whatever that means. Shaw also said the campaign is following federal law which allows contributions from lobbyists.

But there is a reason that state law prohibits legislators from raising money from lobbyists who are paid to influence them. It is an obvious ethical conflict for legislators.

And it’s an obvious ethical conflict for Tillis to raise money from lobbyists too. That’s why the Charlotte Observer has called on him to step down as House Speaker.

The General Assembly session begins in six weeks. That means that unless he follows the Observer’s advice, Tillis may be presiding over the House during the day and raising money from lobbyists at night, lobbyists who want bills to pass the chamber that Tillis runs.

Legislative leaders do a premature voter fraud dance

Republican legislative leaders are so excited about a report showing potential voter fraud they can hardly stand it. The State Board of Elections is now investigating a report that 765 people may have voted in North Carolina and another state in 2012. In case you are wondering, that is 0.016 percent of the more than 4.5 million votes case in the presidential election in North Carolina 2012.

Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis put out a joint statement saying the report justifies the voter suppression law passed last session that includes one of the strictest voter ID requirement in the country.

As several editorials and public interest groups have noted, two things are important to remember about the report. First of all, some of the alleged double voting could actually be mistakes made by precinct workers, as State Board of Elections Director Kim Strach pointed out to legislators. And voter ID would have not have prevented any of the double voting, even if it did happen.

Strach and the State Board are investigating the alleged fraud but the politicians couldn’t wait. The misleading news releases were issued and premature grand pronouncements were made immediately. Why let any facts get in the way of an opportunity for some headlines?

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.