Gov. Pat McCrory Monday changed his state disclosure reports on the same day a liberal group accused him of failing to report trips paid for by the Republican Governors Association.
McCrory acknowledged receiving more than $13,000 for travel to seven RGA events in 2013, including stays in Charleston, New Orleans and Scottsdale, Ariz.
McCrory’s attorney said it’s common practice for the governors association to cover such travel.
The complaint by Progress NC Action was the second it has filed with the state Ethics Commission that alleges McCrory failed to make proper disclosures.
In January the group claimed he failed to report holdings in Duke Energy, income from Tree.com and his role in a company owned by his brother Phil of Charlotte.
“At some point it becomes a pattern,” Gerrick Brenner, the group’s executive director, said after a news conference in Charlotte. “The question is, what else is he hiding?”
Attorney Bob Stephens said Monday he misunderstood the requirement for reporting the RGA trips. State law requires officials to report whether they’ve received “scholarships” to attend conferences.
“We have consistently interpreted the word ‘scholarship’ to not include travel expenses,” said Stephens, the governor’s chief legal counsel. “However, after inquiring of the Ethics Commission staff, we’ve been told these expenditures should be reported, and we have submitted the supplemental information.”
State GOP claims conflict
Meanwhile, the state Republican Party suggested that the Ethics Commission itself has a conflict of interest. It said the attorney for the commission had been a partner of the Raleigh lawyer who represents Progress NC Action.
“It raises some serious questions that it hasn’t been disclosed,” said Todd Poole, the GOP’s executive director.
The attorney, Carson Carmichael, has worked for the commission since January 2013. Executive Director Perry Newson said there’s no connection between the commission and Progress NC Action.
The chairman of the eight-member commission was appointed by McCrory. One member is Francis De Luca, president of the conservative Civitas Institute.
Though the status of Progress NC Action’s initial complaint is unclear, a report last week suggested it’s continuing.
After a 30-day preliminary review period passed, the commission had to inform the parties whether it was dismissing the complaint or proceeding with it. No one announced it was dismissed. Now it’s believed the case has moved into a second phase where the commission will determine whether there’s probable cause to take action.
Criminal or civil penalties could be possible if the commission finds any laws were broken.
Call to make inquiry public
In Raleigh and Charlotte, Brenner called on the governor to make the ethics inquiry public. At Charlotte’s Government Center, he delivered 11,000 petition signatures to the governor’s Charlotte office.
According to the complaint, the RGA paid for McCrory to attend conferences at hotels such as the luxury Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans and the Charleston Place Hotel.
The Charleston event was billed as a “corporate policy summit.” That and similar RGA meetings, which are closed to the media, brought corporate donors together with GOP governors.
“It is entirely appropriate for the RGA … to pay travel expenditures for the Governor and staff to attend these meetings,” said Stephens, McCrory’s counsel. “This is an accepted practice for governors around the country and does not require the use of any taxpayer money to attend these important functions.”
Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, McCrory’s alma mater, said it’s not unusual for groups such as Progress NC Action to target the governor.
“There is a very deliberative strategy to these kinds of things nowadays, and it’s on both sides,” Bitzer said. “It just happened that the Democrats being out of power are relying on their allies. … It’s the new norm in today’s hyper-partisan environment.” Staff writer Gavin Off contributed.