RALEIGH — A private nonprofit formed to promote Gov. Pat McCrorys agenda is hosting a $5,000-per-person retreat that features exclusive policy briefings with the governor just as the legislative session enters a crucial phase.
The two-day event, which starts Thursday, is expected to draw 100 to 150 corporate representatives and wealthy donors to the luxury Grandover Resort outside Greensboro.
South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley will join McCrory on the first day for a reception, dinner and forum. The second days agenda includes a session on state policy issues with McCrory and other civic and business leaders, according to a fundraising invitation.
The organization hosting the retreat is the Renew North Carolina Foundation, a group formed by McCrory allies shortly after his November election that recently rebranded itself and recruited new leadership.
Two tickets to the dinner with the governors cost $1,000. Two passes to the entire retreat cost $10,000. A year-long membership in the foundation carries a $25,000 or $50,000 price tag, depending on the level of perks offered.
The invitation sent to potential donors comes just as dozens of bills arrive on McCrorys desk and Republican leaders work behind the scenes to finalize a $20 billion state budget and a $1 billion tax overhaul measure. The retreat will take place the same week that lawmakers hope to reach deals on a number of key legislative priorities ahead of an impending adjournment.
Foundation Chairman John Lassiter, a close McCrory friend, said the timing is not intentional. He said the group promised two retreats when it formed late last year, and this is the first.
Lassiter, who helped lead the McCrorys transition office, said it is not a fundraising event for the candidate. But he added, Were honored the governor can join us.
Jack Hawke, a foundation board member and who managed McCrorys 2012 campaign, said most donors gave six months ago when they joined the organization, and the retreat is not aimed at having people who are lobbying the legislature for particular causes.
Its a discussion on major issues facing the state, and a round of golf, thats about it, he said.
Not everyone has that access
But critics see a problem with the timing and the high-dollar event.
North Carolinas budget and tax code are being negotiated behind closed doors, simultaneously Gov. McCrory is going to a ($10,000) getaway weekend with his secretly funded front group, said Micah Beasley, a state Democratic Party spokesman. North Carolina needs leadership thats focused on jobs and the economy, not piling up special-interest cash.
Bob Phillips at Common Cause in North Carolina, a government watchdog group, questioned the pay-for-access aspect of the event.
The perception problem is that a limited group of people with deep pockets get access and people likely with business before the state, he said. Not everyone has that access.
501c4 flies McCrorys colors
Renew North Carolina reorganized earlier this year, adding new leadership and a new logo that mirrors McCrorys campaign colors. Bob Singer, a Greensboro banking attorney at Brooks Pierce law firm, is the new president. New board members are Bill Graham, a former gubernatorial candidate and Salisbury attorney, and David Benford, a Wilmington real estate agent and GOP player.
The 501c4 nonprofit changed its name April 30, according to Secretary of State records. Hawke explained that the original name was too close to another entity, the Foundation for the Carolinas. They said our name was impacting their fundraising, so instead of getting in an argument, we changed our name, he said.
Organizers initially anticipated raising $600,000 in less than two months and set a $900,000 fundraising target for 2013. In an interview this week, Lassiter declined to provide fundraising numbers to date, nor would he say how many memberships the group sold.
The foundation can raise unlimited funds from any source including lobbyists and corporations, which are prohibited from giving directly to candidates and doesnt need to disclose its donors. By comparison, state political committees must abide by donation limits and disclose contributor information.
Its still unclear how the foundation plans to spend its money. Lassiter said it would take an in-depth look at policy issues, particularly economic development, government efficiency and education three areas McCrory has made his focus.
If (McCrory) is taking steps in those areas that we think are the right ones, we will advocate them, he said. We will raise funds to get the message out.