Pressure to regulate strip clubs pushed Slim Baucom into politics

There was a simple reason Slim Baucom got into politics – a threat to his business.

It was about 10 years ago. Other cities and states were adopting strict zoning and licensing regulations that made it difficult for strip clubs to operate. Baucom wanted to prevent that in North Carolina.

He paid $10,000 for a table at Mike Easley’s 2005 inauguration as governor and led a delegation from Charlotte’s hospitality and tourism industry to Raleigh.

But Baucom quickly discovered that openly currying favor with politicians isn’t always easy for a strip club owner. Easley later said he was returning $8,000 in campaign donations from Baucom after questions were raised about officials accepting money from strip club owners.

“I don’t understand,” Baucom said recently. “Is there some invisible list that says you can’t participate in the political arena?”

Baucom switched tactics and started donating to political action committees. PACs pool contributions from an interest group in order to make large donations to candidates.

That raised even more scrutiny.

In 2005, Baucom gave $4,000 to the political action arm of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance, which lobbies for the city’s entertainment industry. The PAC, in turn, gave the money to former House Speaker Jim Black. But neither Baucom’s donation nor the contribution to Black showed up on the PAC’s campaign finance reports.

Baucom, a longtime board member of the tourism alliance, and Mohammad Jenatian, the president, were called before a federal grand jury investigating Black in 2006. Jenatian said the transaction was an oversight and filed an amended report. Neither man was charged.

After that, Baucom said he stopped donating. He said he felt he was being singled out because of the nature of his business.

Nabbing the politicians

Then came another accusation.

In July 2007, Black testified in Wake Superior Court that Baucom gave him an illegal $2,000 cash contribution. Black had admitted taking $25,000 in cash from chiropractors, but his testimony about Baucom came as a surprise to investigators.

Until two weeks ago, when a reporter mentioned it, Baucom said he had never heard about it. The only money he gave Black, Baucom said, was by check.

Black, who could not be reached, spent more than three years in federal prison. Neither the prosecutor nor the elections board followed up on the accusation.

“The donors in these political corruption cases are not usually prosecuted because the government wants cooperating witnesses,” said Joe Sinsheimer, a political watchdog who pushed for Black’s resignation. “The U.S. attorney’s office is more interested in corrupt politicians than the corrupters.”

Sinsheimer said he believes that in the Patrick Cannon case, federal investigators may have pressed Baucom to divulge whether there were any illegal payouts to other politicians.