Editorials

Gov. McCrory’s latest ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse on ethics

The Observer editorial board

Raleigh

When the Observer’s editorial board endorsed Pat McCrory for governor in 2012, we said that we liked his long track record as a hard-working Charlotte mayor who avoided ethical missteps.

We can’t say the same about his ethics record as a first-term governor. He has faced accusations of mishandling his ethics forms – a charge he answered Wednesday by saying the state ethics commission cleared him of wrongdoing.

Other questions remain. A federal grand jury is probing plum contracts former Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos issued to well-connected individuals. McCrory doggedly supported her to the end.

And then there was the time he says he was not told that one of his appointees to the state elections board had been inappropriately pressuring staff for details on an investigation that involved donations to McCrory’s campaign.

Now, in a new case, we’re trying to understand why he couldn’t see how bad it would look for a governor to personally broker a meeting between a friend and campaign donor seeking multimillion dollar state contracts and the state employees blocking that friend’s path.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that friend, longtime Charlotte business leader Graeme Keith, was right when he said this latest controversy is simply about state prison bureaucrats scrambling to protect their turf from private-sector competitors such as his firm. If Keith can save taxpayers millions by taking prison maintenance duties off the state’s hands, isn’t the governor just looking out for the state when he pulls both sides into a room to hash it all out?

Sure – if the governor is willing to do that personally for each of the countless other private businesses that would love to privatize various state services. He’s not going to do that. And that’s why he shouldn’t have done it this time, either.

If McCrory didn’t understand the message his presence sent, he was the only one in the room who didn’t. Keith even declared that he’d given a lot of money to candidates running for office “and it was now time for him to get something in return,” according to a Department of Public Safety memo recounting the meeting.

The governor’s reaction to that? Didn’t hear it, he says. Was probably in a “side conversation” right then.

If that explanation has a familiar dog-ate-my-homework ring to it, that’s because we’re getting used to hearing excuses for ethical lapses from this administration. Either McCrory doesn’t know an ethical miscue when he sees one, or he knows and doesn’t care.

Neither scenario is good.

“We did this the right way,” the governor said of the Keith situation. He added: “We have nothing to hide.”

The FBI will get to the bottom of that last assertion. But the first one? You don’t need a federal investigation to figure out if it holds true.

Plain common sense tells you it doesn’t.

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