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McCrory’s mishandling of his Duke stock

We’re not sure which is most upsetting:

• That Gov. Pat McCrory owned a substantial amount of Duke Energy stock for his first 15 months in office, including for two months after Duke’s massive coal ash spill, even though that posed an obvious conflict of interest as the utility lobbied the administration hard on all kinds of matters.

• That McCrory filed an inaccurate report with the State Ethics Commission, saying he didn’t own any Duke stock as of Dec. 31, 2013, when in fact he did. Doing so reveals either a desire to mislead or gross incompetence by him and his general counsel.

• That McCrory still doesn’t get it. The governor maintains “we haven’t broken any rules” when that is indisputably untrue. He says he is “amazed” at the questions surrounding his mistake, fully unable to comprehend that it’s a matter most North Carolinians consider newsworthy.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Duke, a regulated utility, gave more than $650,000 in campaign contributions to candidates in 2013 and lobbies the McCrory administration and legislators on an array of issues. The governor appoints members of the Utilities Commission and the administration (occasionally) enforces environmental laws. Yet McCrory, who worked at Duke for 29 years, held on to his Duke stock into April, even as he was orchestrating the state’s response to Duke’s spill into the Dan River. That is a direct conflict. He should have sold it the day after he was elected, or at least put his holdings into a blind trust as many other high-ranking elected officials do.

McCrory blames the inaccurate report on his general counsel, Bob Stephens. The forms ask for McCrory’s holdings as of Dec. 31, 2013. McCrory says Stephens “misread” the forms and thought they should reflect holdings as of April 15, 2014, one day after the governor sold the last of his Duke stock.

The governor hopes that excuse is good enough. We don’t recommend you try using it with the IRS if you misstate information on your Form 1040. And scores of other public officials with significantly smaller teams of legal experts managed to read the instructions correctly. It would be stunning for Stephens, with vast experience in public affairs and a 40-year legal career, to overlook something so basic.

Even today, McCrory is not being transparent. He won’t say how much Duke stock he owned; state law is flawed in that it requires him only to say whether it was worth more than $10,000, but it could be any amount above that.

Rather than owning the mistake, McCrory issued a defensive statement and said he broke no rules. In May, a spokesman pointed to the now-discredited disclosure report and said it “eliminates the often repeated, ridiculous and false, partisan left-wing attacks challenging the intent of our decisions and policies.” That reminds one of Hillary Clinton dismissing probes into her husband as just a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

No conspiracy put Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office, no conspiracy convicted Democratic Gov. Mike Easley of campaign finance irregularities. And, governor, no conspiracy made you hang on to a personal stake in a company you’re supposed to be regulating for the good of the state.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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