State lawmaker’s failure to disclose business ties highlights broader ethics enforcement problem

State lawmaker’s failure to disclose business ties highlights broader ethics enforcement problem

State Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover)

State Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) failed to disclose a business owned and operated by her husband on state Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) forms for several years, according to documents reviewed by Policy Watch.

In North Carolina, public officials are required to disclose connections to all non-publicly owned companies by which they or their immediate family members are employed or in which they have an interest.

Grange’s husband, David Grange, registered his “consulting” business Osprey at Compass Pointe LLC with the state Secretary of State’s office in July 2015. Yet the business did not appear on Grange’s SEI form in 2016, when she was first appointed to a state House seat to replace incumbent Rick Catlin. She ran unopposed for the seat in that year’s election. Rep. Grange also did not list the business on her SEI forms in 2017 or 2018. In February 2018, the business was administratively dissolved by the Secretary of State’s office for failure to file an annual report.

Rep. Grange, now a GOP candidate for governor, also did not disclose the business on her 2019 SEI form. As the law requires annual disclosure of connections to businesses through December 31 of the calendar year, it appears Osprey at Compass Pointe LLC should have been reported on Grange’s SEI forms from 2016 through 2019.

Rep. Grange’s campaign responded to questions about the business from Policy Watch by saying it is “looking into the matter.”

A web of businesses

It is not clear what sort of consulting business Osprey at Compass Point LLC was during the four years it was active and registered with the Secretary of State’s office. It does not appear to have been awarded state contracts and produced little if any paper trail.

It appears to be related to Osprey Global Solutions, a business Grange has disclosed on her SEI forms since 2016 and for which, on her most recent SEI form, she is listed as Director of Community Relations. The business phone number for Osprey at Compass Pointe LLC is the same as Osprey Global Solutions.

Messages left for the Granges at that number were not returned.

Osprey Global Solutions is an LLC that offers a wide range of services reflecting the Grange family’s military background. Rep. Grange is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point who served in the Army Corps of Engineers from 1982 to 1990 and in the Army Reserves from 1990 to 1997.

Her husband, David Grange, served 30 years in the Army, retiring as a major general after service with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. He also served with the elite special operations unit Delta Force in the invasion of Grenada and in Operation Desert Storm.

Osprey Global Solutions offers security services, customized protection, threat education, and a variety of weapons and shooting classes, including advanced long-range marksmanship from a four-story tower on its Wilmington facility. The company also owns a short take-off and landing strip for “aviation-related activities such as casualty evacuation, aerial infiltration and exfiltration, aircraft interdiction, and other airborne scenarios.”

The firm offers an “Executive Warrior” course  too, which it describes as “24-hours of intense training tailored for today’s Executive, compressed within a 48-hour deployment to Wilmington, North Carolina.” That course includes lessons on advanced high-stress shooting, anti-kidnapping, hostage survival and high-risk situational training. The company advertises it as being taught by “former Army Counter-Terrorism Warriors, Navy SEALS, Green Berets, Army Rangers, Police SWAT Officers, DEA Agents, Undercover Detectives, Government Agency Operatives, and an expert team of Board Certified Physicians, Neuro-Physiology and Behavioral Health Trainers, Intuitive Perception Experts and Paramedics.”

Apparently related businesses that Grange did disclose on her SEI forms from 2016 to 2019 include Osprey Armament, Osprey Products and Osprey Combat.

It is unclear why Osprey at Compass Pointe LLC was not among them.

A larger problem

Kathleen Edwards, interim director of the State Ethics Commission, said her office does not generally comment on whether someone should have disclosed a business on their SEI forms.

Statement of Economic Interest

But cases like Grange’s and plenty of others – from honest oversights to more problematic cases – point to a larger problem, she said.

“We only have eight employees now, the entire commission,” said Edwards. “So the SEI unit, many aspects of the agency, are woefully understaffed at this point.”

The unit will investigate complaints of non-disclosure, Edwards said. But beyond executive branch officials – which it is statutorily required to evaluate – it does not perform audits.

“This was a record year for candidates,” Edwards said. “I think we’re close to 800 people under our jurisdiction.”

The staffing shortage is something Edwards has been concentrating on since she was named interim director last year after a turbulent period in which the General Assembly and the governor fought over the commission’s legislative-ordered merger with the state Board of Elections.

Before the merger, the commission had 13 employees. After a court battle led to the commission once again being separated from the Board of Elections, only three of the original employees remain. Two more positions are approved, which would bring the total staffing up to 10, but those positions are now hung up in the ongoing state budget fight between the legislature and the governor, Edwards said.

Jane Pinsky has been director of the non-profit NC Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform since 2007.

Understaffing at the Ethics Commission – and the way that can allow public officials’ economic interests to go unchecked – has always been a problem, she said.

Jane Pinsky, Director of the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform

“There are thousands of SEIs they have to comb through,” Pinsky said. “And some of them are quite long and complex. I remember someone talking about having to copy 15-20 pages for their SEI from their stockbroker. It’s an overall problem. It’s part of what, for me, ends up undermining people’s confidence in our state government. You don’t know that people are playing fair.”

With so many bills, contracts and businesses as potential conflicts, Pinsky said, constant vigilance is necessary.

That vigilance can be particularly important when legislators are involved in regulating powerful business interests, Pinsky said.

Rep. Grange is currently chair of the House Committee Elections and Ethics Law, the House Committee on Banking as well as vice chair of the committee on Homeland Security, Military and Veterans Affairs.

“Where I think it’s very important is for those of us who are citizens to keep an eye on whether someone is acting on their own interest rather than in their own interest,” Pinsky said. “The only way you can do that is with the SEIs.”

“It may not always be comfortable to disclose your business or your spouse’s businesses,” Pinksy added. “But you really have to do it.”