Under the Dome

Ethics complaint against McCrory appears to advance

An ethics complaint filed against Gov. Pat McCrory in January appears to be moving forward in the State Ethics Commission.

A preliminary review period has passed, and neither the governor nor the complainant, an advocacy group called Progress N.C. Action, is commenting.

Progress N.C. Action’s complaint alleges ethics law violations by McCrory over what it claims is a pattern by the governor of failing to fully disclose his financial interests as required. The 50-page complaint included 400 pages of exhibits. It focuses on McCrory’s holdings of Duke Energy and Tree.com stock as well as previous employment at a firm owned by his brother.

Until now, a two-member panel of the eight-member ethics commission could have dismissed the complaint for only a few reasons: if it was made against a public official who is not covered by the state ethics law; if the allegations made did not have sufficient facts to constitute a violation of the ethics law; or if the complaint is “frivolous or brought in bad faith.”

Otherwise, it must move into a second, more intensive phase where the panel must determine whether there is probable cause to warrant action, including a public hearing.

By law, that preliminary review period was 30 business days, and the commission must inform the parties of its decision – to proceed or dismiss – in writing.

In the next phase, the commission’s work is protected by confidentiality laws as it seeks to determine whether there is more merit to a complaint. In this case, McCrory now would be given 30 days to file a formal response to the complaint.

The ethics law also allows McCrory, as the subject of a complaint, to make otherwise confidential records public. But the complainant cannot make that request.

McCrory, asked whether he had received any notification from the commission, said this week that he didn’t know.

“I’m not engaged in that at this point in time,” he said. “You might have to refer to my counsel about those answers. I’m focusing on being governor and getting my work done. That’s all I’ll say on that.”

Bob Stephens, the governor’s chief legal counsel, said communications between the governor’s office and the ethics commission are confidential.

Progress N.C. Action’s executive director, Gerrick Brenner, also will not comment on any communication it may have received from the ethics commission.

If the commission had dismissed the complaint, there would be no confidential proceedings, and either side would be free to discuss it.

On Tuesday, Brenner issued a statement calling on the governor to make the commission’s inquiry public.

If the ethics commission had dismissed the advocacy group’s complaint already, Brenner said, “Don’t you think the governor’s press operation would shout from the mountain and let the world know? The only logical conclusion one can reach is that the ethics complaint has not been dismissed and Gov. McCrory now has 30 days to respond to the complaint.”

McCrory steady in poll

A new survey by Public Policy Polling shows McCrory with 44 percent of voters disapproving and 40 percent approving his performance, which is consistent in all three PPP polls since November.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis