Echoes of 'pay to play' in Tillis' post-PAC appointments

July 20, 2013 

It was September of 2010. Oh, the Democrats were up to evil, pure evil. It was, to open the story like a bad novel, a dark and stormy night.

What happened was that Gov. Bev Perdue, Evil Democrat No. 1, appointed her old pal from the state Senate, David Hoyle, to be the Secretary of Revenue. Hoyle was a longtime anti-labor, pro-business Democrat who’d tried to bring home the bacon and the sausage for his Gaston County constituents over many years in the Senate. He was justifiably known as a wheeler-dealer.

And then there was state Sen. Tony Rand. Perdue named him head of the N.C. Parole Commission. If a corporation needed something done, they went to Rand, the dapper, quick-witted majority leader of the upper chamber. Other times, he’d be for the average folks, the ones he represented in Fayetteville with great success in his law practice. In long years in the Senate, Rand was popular all around – and when in full power, his enemies liked him even as they were counting casualties.

Another senator, who wanted something clarified, once asked in the middle of a floor debate, “Senator Rand, have you been listening to this discussion?” Rand rose slowly from his seat, held the microphone to his lips and replied, “Ah’m afraid so.”

But Republicans, running on the high road and casting thunderbolts of harsh judgment against all things Perdue, smelled blood. They said they were sick of the Democrats abusing office to take care of their friends. Outraged they were!

Tom Fetzer, then chairman of the state GOP, said, “Perdue’s pay to play philosophy is paying off for Hoyle and Rand, but our citizens have seen enough.”

Fetzer’s quote was in a news release issued by the party spokesman, Jordan Shaw, in a general blast of Democrats. Today, Shaw works for House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Candidates for federal office have fewer restrictions on their fundraising – specifically on raising money while lawmakers are in session – than do state candidates. And when it comes to fundraising these days, the only green growing under Tillis’ feet is $100 bills.

A super PAC supporting Tillis is likely to raise millions of dollars, and the beauty of such an organization is that there are virtually no limits on contributions. Tillis has more than a few supporters who’ve come across with $20,000 or $25,000 because, they say, they think Tillis, who has presided over one of the most bizarre legislative sessions in history, would make an outstanding senator.

There is a remarkable coincidence in all this. It happens that the House appointed three men, who gave a total of $70,000 to the super PAC, to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. It’s perhaps the most prestigious board in the state, and Speaker Tillis is a man of no small influence when it comes to appointees.

But don’t anyone dare whisper “pay to play,” because when Republicans are involved, there’s no hint of that, of course. Shaw says, shucks, anyone can contribute to the PAC “without our involvement.”

The donors/appointees uniformly say their contributions surely had nothing to do with their getting on the Board of Governors, nor did they intend to benefit from donating to Tillis’ PAC. Their dollars are in, they say, because they are just eaten up with joy at the prospect of Thom Tillis being a U.S. senator.

Tillis is playing by the rules, such as they are. But it is utter hypocrisy for Republicans who once condemned Democrats for rewarding their allies with appointed posts to help name contributors, big contributors, to highfalutin’ positions and to get their backs up when critics compare such actions to – how was it Chairman Fetzer described it? – “pay to play.” The questions raised by this are fair. The answers, thus far, are decidedly lacking.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service