McCrory group works outside political giving rules

A foundation backing Pat McCrory’s agenda can collect cash without limits or public disclosure.

December 13, 2012 

As the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Pat McCrory spoke often of treating citizens like customers. The idea, we supposed, was that he wanted state employees to respond to the public as if their jobs depended on rendering good service.

But now that McCrory is governor-elect, his top campaign adviser has created a foundation that gives the notion of customer service a less positive spin. Apparently it means that under Governor McCrory, customers who give the most money will get the most attention. That will be a problem if those donors also are seeking state contracts or relief from regulations.

Jack Hawke, a former GOP state chairman and adviser to McCrory, help set up the Foundation for North Carolina. It’s a tax-exempt group that can accept unlimited donations and doesn’t have to publicly disclose its donors. Hawke says that the foundation will promote McCrory’s priorities, but that the governor will not be directly involved.

“It’s arm length,” Hawke says, but the foundation’s agenda will “correspond with the issues he laid out in the campaign. As a general rule, it will be helping to put meat on the bones around these issues and help sell them to the public.”

Selling the agenda

The public might have thought that selling the governor’s agenda was the governor’s job. And, in that, he could already expect ample help from such conservative think tanks as the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation, two groups supported largely by the conservative advocate Art Pope, who is playing a role in setting up the McCrory administration.

The foundation’s plans are fuzzy, but its solicitations are clear. It raised eyebrows by announcing a Jan. 12 inaugural celebration event that may divert contributions that normally go to the Junior League through its sponsorship of the inaugural ball, which will be Jan. 11.

Now the foundation is courting donors to come to a spring weekend retreat in Pinehurst to rub elbows with the new governor and to attend a fall conference at Bald Head Island for more of the same. The N&O reported that the group is offering special memberships for $25,000 and $50,000 that come with tickets to these conferences as well as to three inaugural events.

The arrangement looks questionable and so is Hawke’s defense – everybody’s doing it. He notes, for instance, that similar groups support New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie and New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Troubles elsewhere

It’s true that groups organized as federal 501(c)4 nonprofit advocacy groups – and thus exempt from public disclosure of donors and limits on giving – are proliferating on both sides of the political spectrum. But the comparison is hardly reassuring. The pro-Christie advocacy group Reform Jersey Now shut down amid widespread criticism that prompted it to release the names of donors. The list included firms with major state contracts.

In New York, the pro-Cuomo lobbying group called the Committee to Save New York was created days after Cuomo’s 2010 election. It has collected millions from donors it won’t identify. Meanwhile, New York’s attorney general is investigating to see whether some advocacy groups exceeded their tax status and instead are serving as shadow political parties.

Pat McCrory comes to office with considerable good will that includes many Democrats who hope he will create a more transparent state government that isn’t run by cronyism. But the surfacing of the Foundation for North Carolina suggests the opposite. The man who talked of customers appears ready to open his administration with a “going into business” sale.

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