Under the Dome

Dome: McCrory appoints heavy hitters to NC Economic Development Board

From Staff ReportsJuly 15, 2013 

Gov. Pat McCrory named some high-powered individuals Monday to the N.C. Economic Development Board that will be chaired by his longtime friend and political ally, John Lassiter of Charlotte.

Lassiter, president of Carolina Legal Staffing, has been an advisor to McCrory, and is also involved in the governor’s 501(c)(4) political committee.

The vice chair is Jim Whitehurst, the president and chief executive officer of Red Hat, the Raleigh-based software company. Other Triangle executives on the board include Madhu Beriwal, CEO of IEM, Chuck Swoboda, CEO of Cree, and Raleigh developer John Kane.

The group includes two people who serve on McCrory’s political committee, Lassiter and Bill Graham, a Salisbury attorney and former gubernatorial candidate. The group also includes two people he defeated in 2008 in the GOP primary for governor, Graham and former state senator Fred Smith.

As is traditional with such boards, McCrory has included many major political contributors. His appointees contributed at least $73,642 to his campaign last year, according to the State Board of Elections.

Group warns of ‘pay-for-play’

An advocacy group is urging state lawmakers to amend pending legislation that aims to overhaul the state’s job creation efforts in order to avoid the potential for unseemly “pay-for-play” politics.

The N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center says that the current version of S.B. 127, which is McCrory’s proposal to create a nonprofit public-private partnership that would take over much of the Commerce Department’s efforts to attract and retain jobs, contains a major loophole.

Since businesses will be asked to contribute to the organization, “the concern is that there would be companies that would be able to give large sums to the partnership as a way of influencing whether or not they get recommended to get incentives,” said Allan Freyer, public policy analyst for the center and author of a new analysis of the bill.

Although the bill calls for state officials to have the final say on incentives, the partnership would be in charge of identifying prospects for incentives and recommending which companies should receive incentives.

The House and Senate have passed different versions of the legislation and haven’t yet reconciled the differences.

“We do think there is an opportunity to amend the bill in the way we have suggested,” Freyer said.

But Josh Ellis, a spokesman for the Commerce Department, said that the current bill contains the necessary safeguards.

“We’re not going to hide where the money is coming from,” Ellis said. “We will be disclosing donors and contribution amounts and we will be as transparent as you can be.”

In addition, he said, “the public money and private money is separate” and “anyone that is voting on state dollars is going to be subject to the state ethics act. You would need to identify … any potential conflicts of interest.”

Defamation suit dismissed

A defamation suit brought against former state Democratic Chairman David Parker and the state Democratic Party has been dismissed.

The suit had been brought by Adriadn Ortega, a former Democratic Party staffer, in June 2012, who claimed he had been defamed by public comments regarding his allegations that he had been sexually harassed. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning dismissed Ortega’s defamation claims against all defendants on June 5 and gave Ortega 30 days to appeal. Instead, Ortega’s counsel filed a voluntary notice of dismissal on July 2. The dismissal was filed “without prejudice” which means that Ortega can re-file the suit within a year.

The dismissal is the latest development in case that drew negative national attention to the state Democratic Party at a time when North Carolina was a battleground state.

Staff writers Rob Christensen and David Ranii

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