Under the Dome

Private firms to pay for lawmakers to travel to India

A recently released opinion from the State Ethics Commission indicates that up to 10 legislators will take part in a trip to India in February, with much of the costs picked up by a biopharmaceutical firm, a credit union, and a nonprofit organization.

As the Insider reports, the trip is being arranged by the Center for International Understanding at the University of North Carolina. It follows a similar trip organized by the center in October in which nine legislators and a handful of other state and local government officials took part. Some of the same organizations helped pick up the cost for that trip.

The opinion from the State Ethics Commission, dated Nov. 1, indicates that it is legal for the named organizations, as well as any others that are registered lobbying principals, to pay for much of the costs because the trip is educational in nature.

The three named organizations or companies -- Quintiles Transnational, the Local Government Federal Credit Union and the Moise and Vera Khayrallah Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation -- are not currently lobbying principals. Quintiles had employed lobbyists as late as 2007, according to records from the Secretary of State's office.

The opinion indicates that, as of the initial request made in September, the Center for International Understanding was seeking additional donations, with some potentially coming from lobbying principals. It also shows that non-legislators attending the trip -- potentially including Commerce Department officials, state Department of Agriculture officials, and Cabarrus County officials -- will pay a "program fee" between $6,915 and $7,785, which includes the cost of airfare.

Legislators would have to pick up any costs associated with two optional events on the agenda, including a trip to see the Taj Mahal.

The trip is being touted as a way for North Carolina officials to understand the Indian economy and to explore business relationships between North Carolina and India. It includes meetings with Indian officials, a tour of a top business school and visits to several Indian companies. The names of the legislators planning to attend are not listed.

According to an article that appeared in the Greensboro News & Record at the time, those who attended the October trip to China were: Sens. Tamara Barringer, Pete Brunstetter, Don Davis, Joel Ford, Ralph Hise, and Tommy Tucker, and Reps. Donny Lambeth, Chuck McGrady and Paul Tine. Donors for that trip included software giant SAS, which is registered as a lobbying principal.