RALEIGH — State Senate Democrats on Wednesday joined the controversy over public safety chief Kieran Shanahan’s former connections to the law and lobbying firms he started.
They proposed prohibiting lobbyists from being married to certain state officials; prohibiting Council of State, non-elected department heads and deputy secretaries from moonlighting; and prohibiting some public servants from using their names in the title of their businesses.
It could have been called the “Shanahan Amendment” as it repeats issues involving the secretary of the Department of Public Safety raised in recent News & Observer stories. But Republicans slapped it down before Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, could finish explaining the proposed amendment to the budget bill.
“My, my, my,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Republican chairman of the Rules Committee. “We can pick up the newspaper and make things personal. This is just pretty low.”
The amendment was tabled without a vote.
Shanahan announced Tuesday that he would take a leave of absence from his law firm and not practice law on the side while in office. He told The News & Observer earlier this month that he was doing minimal legal work for a few clients for the law firm he founded in 2001. He said he hasn’t represented any clients with business before the General Assembly since taking office in January.
He also said that he had checked with the State Bar about its rule that prohibits lawyers who hold public office from using their names in the title of a law firm “during any substantial period” when the lawyer isn’t actively practicing with the firm. He said he was working with his counsel to determine the proper course for the Shanahan Law Group.
On Tuesday, The N&O inquired about ties between the law firm and the lobbying firm that he formed with his wife and two others in 2009, called CompassNC. Several organizations that CompassNC represents are from industries that typically have business at the state legislature.
Shanahan’s wife, Tina Shanahan, said the lobbying firm has been careful not to represent clients with issues related to the Department of Public Safety. She said she has had limited involvement with the firm because she is busy as a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Kieran Shanahan was not available for an interview Wednesday, but a spokeswoman said he wanted to emphasize that he has been “systematically winding down his practice since his appointment,” and that is what prompted Wednesday’s announcement, not the stories in the newspaper or pressure from the governor or advocacy groups.
Tina Shanahan said Wednesday that her husband severed any interests he had with the lobbying company after he was appointed. She also said there was nothing improper about the CompassNC sharing an office suite with the law firm.