Gov. Bev Perdue was scheduled to appear at an event next week organized by a group backing ethics reform, one of her pet issues.
But there was a catch that the governor's staff says she didn't know about: The event is a fundraiser for the reform group, and was being hosted by an all-star group of lobbyists, a format that seemed to run counter to the proposals to clean up state government.
After learning more about the event from a report on The News & Observer's website, newsobserver.com, Perdue pulled out. "She does not feel it would be appropriate for her to go," said spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson.
"Oh, crap," said Jane Pinsky, who leads the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
She said she hadn't yet heard from Perdue on Tuesday evening.
Pinsky said she sent the governor the same invitation as everyone else, which she said made clear the reception was a fundraiser and which listed the lobbyist sponsors. Pinsky said the event would go on without the governor, giving the organization a chance to raise money and highlight its agenda of changes to help repair state government, which has been tainted by recent scandals.
Lobbyists hosting the reception at 5 p.m. Monday represent some of the state's biggest interests. They include a poultry litter incinerating company that has sought state permits; drug giant GlaxoSmithKline; IBM; lottery vendor GTECH Corp.; Cisco Systems; and a range of statewide professional associations.
Top legislative leaders are expected to stop in before heading down the street for that evening's session.
They even got a waiver
The public and lawmakers have been invited. Tickets are $50. But the reform coalition secured an opinion from the state Ethics Commission that allows the elected officials to eat and drink for free.
The opinion, which prevents sanctions if followed, says an exemption in the ethics law allows public servants who show up to take free food and drinks. It's allowed because a broad group of officials was invited - one of roughly a dozen loopholes in North Carolina's ban on gifts for top public officials.
Pinsky said her group wants the loophole closed but would use it while it existed. She said lawmakers who attend can still choose to pay or opt not to eat or drink.
Perdue has made ethics and government reform one of her main issues this year, and the reform coalition has expressed support for her plans. One of Perdue's ideas is to extend the gift ban to all state employees.
Pearson said Perdue remained a supporter of the reform group; she said it has "provided her with valuable insight."
Peter Hans, a lobbyist for IBM and GSK, said he's helping host the event because he believes in the reform group's mission. "It's a good organization promoting a good cause," he said.
Pinsky acknowledged she has heard criticism about her group mixing lawmakers and lobbyists around a fundraising event, which will be at the law and lobbying offices of Poyner Spruill in downtown Raleigh.
Why did the reform group arrange the event? Pinsky said her organization needs the money. "We have to keep the lights on," she said.
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