Walter Dalton proposes slate of ethics reforms

jfrank@newsobserver.comAugust 29, 2012 

Walter Dalton proposed a litany of ethics and transparency reforms Wednesday designed to revive the public’s trust in government and distance himself from scandals that tarnished the past two Democratic governors.

The Democratic candidate for governor proposed a plan that would limit legislative leaders’ terms to eight consecutive years, create an independent panel to draw political boundaries and expand campaign contributions and public records disclosure. He also wants tougher penalties for public corruption crimes and a better-equipped State Ethics Commission, the government’s watchdog agency.

Dalton’s ideas are not new, but his proposal underscores how political scandals have plagued state government in recent years.

“The vast majority of the people I’ve served with in the Senate and state government are good people,” said Dalton, the current lieutenant governor and a former state senator. “But we cannot tolerate a breach of confidence in our government.”

If elected, Dalton also promised to require his senior advisers and cabinet appointees to sign performance contracts and make them public. On the state budget process, he vowed to hold public hearings and open meetings with lawmakers about his spending plan.

One particular point in Dalton’s three-page proposal appeared aimed at Republican rival Pat McCrory: more detailed financial disclosure forms made available online.

Democrats have pressed McCrory to produce his federal tax returns amid questions about his job as a policy consultant for a Charlotte law firm that lobbies state government. Dalton supplied his state and federal returns earlier this year.

McCrory filed the required disclosure form, but his finances remain largely hidden. He received more than $5,000 in compensation from 10 sources in the past year, but how much he made overall – and his sources of lesser income – remain unknown. He has repeatedly refused to release his taxes or a client list.

Dalton stopped short of requiring gubernatorial candidates to release their taxes, but he said it’s a point worth more discussion. “(Voters) deserve to know how their public servants make a living and what potential conflicts they have,” Dalton said.

McCrory’s campaign issued a statement dismissing Dalton’s proposals and linking him to two Democratic governors, Mike Easley and incumbent Bev Perdue, who have both endured ethical controversies.

A spokesman also criticized Dalton for his role as a former state budget writer in the Senate, a closed-door process. “Dalton is a card-carrying member of the good-old boy and good-old girl system of our broken state government that has produced scandal after scandal,” spokesman Ricky Diaz said.

McCrory, who declined to comment, plans to release his own proposal.

As a state senator, Dalton didn’t push for term limits for legislative leaders while his mentor, Sen. Marc Basnight, reigned in the chamber for 18 years.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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