NC Court of Appeals to rule on state's ability to levy lobbying law fines

Judges to rule on Secretary of State’s ability to levy fines under state lobbying law

lbonner@newsobserver.comJanuary 8, 2013 

Staff Photographer

Don Beason's fine was revealed in his appeal.

ROBERT WILLETT — Robert Willett

The question of whether Don Beason and his son Mark should pay fines for lobbying violations made its way to the N.C. Court of Appeals on Tuesday, where judges will decide the bounds of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall’s ability to levy fines under state lobbying law.

The case has been wending its way through court rooms since 2010, when Marshall hit former top lobbyist Don Beason with a record-setting $110,000 fine, and he appealed. Mark Beason was fined $6,000.

An administrative law judge reduced Don Beason’s fine to $6,000, but Marshall bumped it back up to $30,000.

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway threw out both Beasons’ fines last year because Don Beason didn’t actually talk to legislators or state officials on behalf of the companies that paid him, and because Mark Beason didn’t get any money.

On Tuesday, lawyers with the Attorney General’s office representing Marshall argued that a Wake Superior Court judge was wrong to throw out the Beasons’ financial penalties.

Special Deputy Attorney General Daniel Johnson argued that Don Beason lobbied through his son and fellow lobbyist T. Jerry Williams.

“The business relationship between Don Beason and Mark Beason is such a close relationship, he only has the clients that Don Beason sends him,” Johnson said.

Jack Nichols, one of the lawyers representing the Beasons, supported Ridgeway’s ruling that Marshall does not have the authority to interpret state lobbying law.

Marshall’s office came up with theories not supported in the law to inflate the Beasons’ fines, their lawyers said.

The lawyers finished their arguments before a three-judge panel and the two sides now wait for a decision.

Marshall’s office claimed Don Beason was paid with money funneled by several undisclosed clients through a New Jersey company, Sigma, in an effort to mask who he was representing. The company paid Beason because it wanted to repeal the state’s Buy America Act, which prohibited the state Department of Transportation from using foreign steel and iron.

Beason registered to represent Sigma, but not four other companies and an Indian trade association, some of which give Sigma money to reimburse him. Marshall’s office said Mark Beason, who was registered to lobby for Sigma, should have registered for a second company as well.

Don Beason stopped lobbying for a few years starting in 2007 after it surfaced that he had given then-House Speaker Jim Black a $500,000 interest-free loan. Beason returned to lobbying in 2011.

The only fines for lobbying law violations Marshall’s office has levied since 2010 are in connection with this case, according to information from her office. The companies and the trade group paid fines ranging from $3,550 to $16,875.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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