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Tillis tries, but can’t serve two masters

North Carolina’s House of Representatives took action on 36 bills Wednesday. They included a package of tax cuts totaling more than $2.4 billion over the next five years, a controversial resolution on guns and important legislation affecting businesses hiring illegal immigrants.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Thom Tillis of Cornelius, missed it all. He was 263 miles away, in Washington, D.C., raising money for his budding U.S. Senate campaign.

Two lobbyists hosted a fundraiser for Tillis at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, where attendees were asked to give up to the legal maximum of $2,600 each. An industry lobbying group called America’s Health Insurance Plans scheduled another event for Tillis Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol Hill Club. Tillis also missed part of Tuesday’s House session. And it is not the first time Tillis has missed important legislative debate so that he could chase campaign cash.

We hardly blame him for raising money every chance he gets. He is vying for the Republican nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat seeking her second term. She has more than $4 million in the bank. At the end of June, Tillis had raised about $300,000. So the financial pressure on him is tremendous. He knows that without money, and a lot of it, he won’t be able to compete.

It was that pressure that brought him to Charlotte last month for a fundraiser at Myers Park Country Club. While he was on the road to Charlotte, the House he presides over was vigorously debating an abortion-related bill.

Besides missing important House business, Tillis’ moonlighting has the look of the pay-to-play politics that Republicans decried among Democrats for so long. A superPAC for Tillis raised $70,000 from George A. Sywassink, R. Doyle Parrish and W.G. Champion Mitchell, newly released records show. Tillis’ House named all three to the UNC Board of Governors recently, including Sywassink after declaring there had been a vote-tallying error the first time around.

State law bars legislators from raising money from lobbyists during the legislative session, but the ban doesn’t apply to federal candidates like Tillis. So he can attend a fundraiser hosted by Royce Everette, a major consumer finance lender, days after the legislature approved a bill raising interest rates and fees for Everette’s industry.

It’s similar to what Hagan did in 2008, raising money for her Senate campaign even as she co-chaired the state Senate Appropriations Committee.

When Tillis announced his Senate bid, he said he would “raise money at the appropriate time.” “I don’t intend to campaign heavily and actively until after we get out of session,” he said.

It’s fine that Tillis is interested in higher office, and we don’t fault him for recognizing the need to raise millions. But the fiscal year started three weeks ago and the legislature still has not agreed on a budget. Tillis is missing sessions. His actions are raising questions of conflict of interest.

He has shown he can’t give his undivided attention to the N.C. House and the U.S. Senate at the same time. He should give up his Speaker’s gavel, resign from his House seat and give his full energy to his Senate bid, unencumbered by such distractions as running the state.

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