Under the Dome

NC Senate leader’s son gets nearly $20K from legislative lobbyists

The congressional campaign of Phil Berger Jr. raised at least $19,400 in December from registered lobbyists of the General Assembly, where his father, Phil Berger, leads the Senate.

The contributions which ranged from $250 to the maximum $2,600 represented roughly one-sixth of the $118,000 Berger Jr. raised for his campaign in 2013, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The cash came from at least 18 different lobbyists, the reports show. Those giving the maximum amounts were Harold Brubaker of Brubaker & Associates, Tom and Kathrine Fetzer of Fetzer Strategic Partners and Steve Metcalf of The Policy Group.

The donations apparently stemmed from a December fundraiser at Cafe Luna in Raleigh. The event’s special guest was Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican. Berger Jr., the Rockingham County district attorney, is running in a nine-way Republican primary in the 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of Greensboro and Guilford County, several counties along the Virginia border and parts of Durham, Orange and Alamance counties.

State law prohibits General Assembly lobbyists from giving to state legislative candidates, but there is no prohibition against those same lobbyists giving to congressional campaigns.

Bob Hall, executive director of the left-leaning watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, said the fundraiser represents a “simple-minded pay-to-play scheme.” “They couldn’t give to the sitting legislator, but they can give to his son,” Hall said. “It’s too bad that the lobbyists feel inclined to get involved in that. It’s too bad that a legislator gets involved in it. The whole thing is just three steps backward.”

Hall said the elder Berger was a “champion of ethics reform and lobbying reform” when he was in the minority party before Republicans took control of the Legislature. “I’ve always had a great deal of respect for him, so I’m sad if he’s thinking this is a fine thing to do. ...It’s just so transparent as a way for the lobbyists to ingratiate themselves and try to cozy up to the big guy in the corner office.”

The Senate leader’s spokeswoman directed questions to Ray Martin, political director for the Republican Senate Caucus. Martin didn’t address the fundraiser directly, but instead took a jab at Hall.

“It says a lot about Bob Hall that he chose the day of Senator (Martin) Nesbitt’s funeral to attack Senator Berger for supporting his own son at an event held three months ago,” Martin said in an emailed statement. “He’s showing his true colors.”

The Insider called Hall seeking a comment on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Berger Jr.’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.