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McCrory, his money, and transparency

Watchdogs eyeing gov.-elect’s current job, future holdings

Pat McCrory doesn’t work for us yet in North Carolina. He’s getting ready, however, by picking people to lead state agencies in advance of his swearing in as governor on Jan. 5 and his inauguration a week later. It’s normal protocol for a governor-to-be, except that while he’s using taxpayer money to pay for this transition, McCrory has kept a job that troubles some people.

McCrory is senior director of strategic initiatives at Moore & Van Allen, a Charlotte law firm that does lobbying work. The gov-elect is not a registered lobbyist, but Moore & Van Allen lobbyists represent outdoor advertising, technology, real estate and energy interests that do business with the state. Some N.C. government watchdogs are uncomfortable with the potential for conflict, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Tuesday.

One such watchdog, Jane Pinsky of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, told the Observer editorial board Wednesday that McCrory should take a leave from Moore & Van Allen and resign from two corporate boards while he is doing “the people’s business.”

Problem is, McCrory isn’t officially doing the people’s business, and the people aren’t yet cutting him a paycheck for his work as governor. Without specific conflicts of interest – “I don’t think we should be accusing him of anything,” Pinsky acknowledges – it’s unreasonable to ask the governor-to-be to stop collecting a salary from his other roles before he raises his right hand in January.

We’re more interested in what McCrory plans to do with any stocks or other investments he has. (He declared more than $10,000 in stock in his financial disclosure form.) Several federal and state officeholders – including the governors of Texas, Florida and Georgia – have put their investments in a blind trust, in which they give up some right to know about their holdings but protect themselves and the public from potential conflicts of interest in office.

The trusts can be a mixed bag for officeholders and the public, however. Startup costs can run into the tens of thousands, and they are complex to maintain, which might explain why less than 10 percent of Congress used them in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In addition, North Carolina doesn’t have rules as strict as some states about the trusts’ “blindness” – how little the officeholder can know about what’s happening with his or her investments.

For some politicians, especially those who don’t have substantial investments, experts suggest bland, non-controversial personal holdings like mutual funds or bonds. That’s the route taken by many public officials, including President Barack Obama.

McCrory, through a spokesman, has declined to say what he’s planning for his investments. He, like other public officials in North Carolina, will be required next year to file a Statement of Economic Interest that provides some details about his holdings. But McCrory campaigned on cleaning up government in Raleigh. Early, detailed transparency about his investments would be a good first step. “There are a lot of people who would benefit from his example,” Pinsky said. We agree.

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