McCrory’s stock disclosure form is, in fact, confusing

From Charlotte attorney Russell Robinson II, in response to “McCrory’s mishandling of his Duke stock” (Aug. 17 editorial):

Your Sunday editorial charging Bob Stephens, Gov. McCrory’s general counsel, with “gross incompetence” in his interpretation of the April 15, 2014 form disclosing ownership of Duke Energy stock is wrong and unfair to a lawyer of exceedingly high character and ability, who has interrupted his 40 years of successful law practice to serve the state he loves in a very difficult role.

Addressing only this point, I have read with careful focus the 11-page form entitled “2014 Statement of Economic Interest” and have concluded that I would likely have interpreted it in exactly the same way that Bob Stephens did. The State Ethics Commission, with which the form is filed, recognizes the confusion in the language of the form and reports that many other filers have likewise applied that interpretation. Thus, your editorial comparison of that complex and confusing form with the simple and completely clear IRS Form 1040 and your assertions that “smaller teams of legal experts managed to read the instructions correctly” so that “[i]t would be stunning for Stephens … to overlook something as basic” all constitute a distortion of facts that malign a devoted public servant.

Part I of the form, relating to $10,000 plus disclosures, says “please provide the requested information as of December 31st of the preceding year unless another time period is specified in the question“ (emphasis added). Accordingly, Question 3 in that Part makes it clear that December 31 is the information date by asking: “Within the preceding two years, have you…sold to or bought from the State personal property with a market value of $10,000 or more?” In clear contrast, though, Question 5(a) on the same page uses the present tense in asking the question answered by Gov. McCrory: “Do you ... own interests (generally stock) valued at $10,000 or more in a publicly owned company?” If you were asked that question, you would surely likewise answer it in the same present tense in which it was worded.

Characteristically, Bob Stephens has admitted his mistake without excusing himself by describing the form’s language cited above. It thus falls to the lot of his colleagues who know him well and admire him to defend his reputation against this kind of distortions that deter so many talented citizens from public service.