Opponent blasts Cherie Berry for taking ‘improper’ campaign donations

N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry
N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry

The Democrat seeking to unseat Cherie Berry as North Carolina labor commissioner criticized her Wednesday for accepting “improper contributions” from corporate executives who have cases pending before her agency.

Candidate Charles Meeker, a former Raleigh mayor, said in a statement that if he’s elected, he will not accept such political contributions.

Everyone gets treated the same.

N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, disputing that political contributions sway her agency’s work

Meeker cited recent campaign donations to Berry totaling $20,000 – from the executives of four companies whose workplaces have recently been fined or inspected by the labor department.

He pointed to contributions totaling $10,000 from Ronald Cameron, the chairman and CEO of Mountaire Farms, a large poultry producer based in Delaware. Mountaire Farms has had a previous workplace death and had three open cases before the labor department earlier this year, Meeker noted.

Cameron, who lives in Arkansas, was Berry’s largest contributor, Meeker said. Executives for Mountaire did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

“This is not right,” Meeker said. “North Carolina citizens deserve better from our public officials.”

Berry: Donors get no breaks

In an interview Wednesday, Berry called Meeker’s criticisms “a political ploy.” She said she doesn’t give preferential treatment to campaign contributors and doesn’t meddle in the decisions made by her department’s safety inspectors.

“Everyone gets treated the same,” she said.

Berry, a Republican seeking her fifth term as labor commissioner, has long argued that the labor department is most effective when it partners with businesses. Meeker and other critics contend that Berry’s department has been too easy on companies that mistreat their workers.

In a 2008 analysis, the Charlotte Observer found that Berry had collected at least half of her campaign contributions that year from executives and managers of companies that have been inspected by her department.

Although the Labor Department routinely reduces fines for workplace safety violations, Berry’s contributors usually got bigger-than-average breaks, the Observer found.

The commissioner leads the N.C. Department of Labor, which is charged by state law with promoting the “health, safety and general well-being” of more than 4 million North Carolina workers. The department is responsible for overseeing workplace safety, inspecting elevators, mines and amusement rides, and administering the state’s wage-and-hour law.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex