State Politics

Republican files ethics complaint against NC House Rules Chairman David Lewis

House Rules Chairman David Lewis, left, is facing an ethics complaint from fellow Republican Rep. George Cleveland of Jacksonville
House Rules Chairman David Lewis, left, is facing an ethics complaint from fellow Republican Rep. George Cleveland of Jacksonville

A Republican state House member has filed an ethics complaint against a fellow Republican, House Rules Chairman David Lewis of Dunn, over legislative maneuvering that might have benefited a friend and campaign donor of Lewis.

Rep. George Cleveland of Jacksonville declined to release a copy of the one-page complaint made to the General Assembly’s Legislative Ethics Committee. He said he didn’t believe that would be appropriate.

The complaint, Cleveland said, centers around legislative actions taken by Lewis during the 2015 session that seemingly protected the state contract of a company run by Rickie Day, a friend and campaign donor to Lewis.

Lewis, who is one of the House’s top leaders, said Friday afternoon he was “very confident” the committee would find nothing wrong with his actions.

The complaint is the latest in a series of public squabbles between a conservative wing of the House Republican Caucus and members of the House leadership team.

Cleveland sponsored legislation that would have allowed a state agency to take over the work of towing, storing and selling vehicles seized by authorities for certain driving offenses, including repeat driving while impaired violations.

Day’s company currently holds the contract in the eastern part of the state. In the final minutes of this year’s session, Lewis inserted language into a bill ensuring that the work would continue to be bid out to private contractors when the current contracts expire early next year.

There is no guarantee Day's company would get the work again. Day contributed $5,000 to Lewis’ campaign this spring.

“I honestly don’t know if it’s pay-to-play or something else,” Cleveland said. “I just felt strongly that what was done was wrong, so I filed the complaint. Now, it’s up to the joint legislative committee to decide whether what was done was right, wrong or indifferent.”

Lewis said Friday afternoon that he hadn’t been notified about the complaint and that he wished Cleveland would have given him the “professional courtesy” of telling him before speaking publicly about it.

He said he “could not agree more” that the issue should be considered by legislators tasked to handle such matters. Lewis has said he believes that private contractors can handle the seized vehicle services more efficiently than a state agency.

“I will certainly be prepared if and when I’m notified by the committee, and I’m very confident that my actions will absolutely pass muster,” Lewis said.

The Legislative Ethics Committee is made up of six House and six Senate members, including six Republicans and six Democrats. Its co-chairwomen are Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer of Charlotte and Sen. Kathy Harrington of Gastonia, both Republicans.

Cleveland said he has never filed an ethics complaint against another member.

According to information on its website, the committee received five complaints between Dec. 1, 2013, and Nov. 30, 2014. Of those, four were dismissed and one awaited action as of the report date. The year before that, the committee didn’t receive any complaints.