Under the Dome

Gov. McCrory amends ethics report to show others paid for seven trips

Gerrick Brenner, center, with Progress NC Action, accuses Gov. Pat McCrory of having unreported conflicts of interests at a press conference outside the N.C. Ethics Commission headquarters in Raleigh on Monday.
Gerrick Brenner, center, with Progress NC Action, accuses Gov. Pat McCrory of having unreported conflicts of interests at a press conference outside the N.C. Ethics Commission headquarters in Raleigh on Monday. cseward@newsobserver.com

Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday filed new ethics disclosure forms that show seven previously unreported trips valued at about $13,000 in 2013.

The governor’s office said late Monday it is gathering information about previous years and “will be updating past SEI forms.”

“We are in the process of gathering records for those years,” spokesman Josh Ellis wrote in an email message.

The filing by McCrory was made as an advocacy group, Progress N.C. Action, filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission seeking an inquiry into McCrory’s travels and disclosures about them, which are required by law to be accurate.

McCrory’s update of his forms on Monday is the third time he has filed an amendment to the required ethics forms to disclose information covering the 2013 calendar year that was not on his original filing.

McCrory’s latest filing, dated and signed by the governor on Friday and stamped received on Monday, discloses trips paid by another person or group that were not previously on McCrory’s ethics disclosures for 2013. They are:

▪ Feb. 21-25 National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington DC at a value of $395.

▪ Feb. 21-25 Republican Governors Association winter meeting in Washington DC at a value of $2,750.

▪ May 14-15 Republican Governors Association “corporate policy summit and executive roundtable” in New Orleans at a value of $2,100.

▪ Aug. 2 National Governors Association summer meeting in Milwaukee at a value of $395.

▪ Sept. 7 Southern Governors Association annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., at a value of $340.

▪ Sept. 16-17 Republican Governors Association “corporate policy summit” in Charleston, S.C., at a value of $2,125.

▪ Nov. 19-21 Republican Governors Association annual conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., at a value of $5,200.

The total listed value of those unreported trips is $13,305.

“It is entirely appropriate for the RGA, NGA and SGA to pay travel expenditures for the Governor and staff to attend these meetings,” McCrory’s chief counsel, Bob Stephens, said in a statement. “This is an accepted practice for governors around the country and does not require the use of any taxpayer money to attend these important functions. We have consistently interpreted the word “scholarship” to not include travel expenses. However, after inquiring of the Ethics Commission staff, we’ve been told these expenditures should be reported and we have submitted the supplemental information for the 2014 SEI form.”

The question on the form that applies in this case uses bold lettering and underlining to clarify certain points.

It asks of the public official: “During the preceding year ... have you accepted a ‘scholarship’ exceeding $200 from a person or group of persons acting together and those person(s) were outside North Carolina and the scholarship was related to your public position? A ‘scholarship’ is a grant-in-aid to attend a conference, meeting, or similar event.

After previously answering “no” to that question, the governor filed the amendment Monday changing that to a “yes.”

The governor’s office on Monday also noted that the governor’s attendance at all of the events was widely known and reported on in the news media at the time of the meetings. Six of the seven were included in the governor’s public schedule.

Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress N.C. Action, said those trips should have been fully disclosed already on the ethics forms to show who paid for them. He raised concern that special interests were helping to pay for those meetings and gained access to the governor at them.

Progress N.C. Action first filed a complain against McCrory in January related to previous amendments and filings he made. The group on Monday called for McCrory to open up the ethics review process, which is protected by confidentiality laws unless McCrory agrees to openness.

The group filed its second complaint on Monday, focusing on the travel.

When questions were first raised last week by WSOC-TV in Charlotte about possibly unreported trips, McCrory’s office told the station that the “chief legal counsel for the governor had determined that this did not need to be disclosed.”

That was not correct.

A spokesman said McCrory had “already begun taking the necessary steps to address this situation,” which led to Monday’s filing.

The complaint against McCrory that was filed Monday raised questions about three events – the “corporate policy” summits in New Orleans and Charleston, and the annual conference in Arizona.

The complaint cites news coverage last year by Bloomberg Business and The New York Times that cited documents showing the Republican Governors Association “has routinely promised donors special access to top leaders.”

Those documents showed how corporate executives and other donors “are rewarded with the chance to meet governors and their aides” at functions not otherwise open to the public.

McCrory has had to amend ethics forms previously.

In 2014, he filed three disclosures for the period covering the 2013 calendar year. Monday’s filing is the fourth update he has made to the form.

Each time, McCrory is required to certify that the filing is “true, complete, and accurate to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

In filing each form, McCrory also certifies that knowingly concealing or knowingly failing to disclose required information is a low-level misdemeanor. A public official who knowingly provides false information on the statement is subject to felony charges.

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