One of the things we really wanted to learn is how the sweepstakes industry operates and works. We made a lot of phone calls. I was fortunate enough to reach a guy who doesn’t talk to the media … and he owns 34 Internet cafes in North Carolina. [A series of phone conversations with that operator eventually led Weiss to a hole-in-the-wall hotdog joint in South Carolina, where he spoke with him for hours—the “exclusive interview” mentioned above. It took a while, but eventually the man explained the procedure for donating sweepstakes money, bundling, that is the subject of Democracy North Carolina’s complaint.] It’s not something that somebody will tell you right away, but if you’re interested, you spend the time on the phone and in person and you give them enough face time and you do the shoe-leather reporting, they’ll usually open up.
What does this story mean for North Carolina politics?
Biesecker: It raises a lot of questions about the revolving doors between the lobbying firms in Raleigh and the elected officeholders. Traditionally in a lot of places people would resign as a state legislator and then there’s a cooling-off period required by state law, and the next thing you know a lobbying firm is sending out a release announcing that they’re a new partner.
With Gov. McCrory, he was working at a lobbying firm prior to taking office, up until within days of taking office. It’s a large law firm as well, Moore & Van Allen in Charlotte, and they have a robust lobbying arm that they’d beefed up while McCrory was working there. He never registered as a lobbyist, but he’s also not a lawyer and he’s been consistently vague about exactly what he did do at the firm, so now you have a lobbying firm with a pretty strong connection to a former employee who’s the governor of North Carolina. So the revolving door is turning the other direction, and I think that’s new.
Certainly the sweepstakes issue and the involvement of Moore & Van Allen in representing Chase Burns is opening up sort of broader questions about the influence that lobbying firms are playing and the access that they have to the state’s top elected leaders.
Weiss: We’re going to be staying on top of it and we’ll be reporting all the developments and digging deeper. There are other stories that Michael and I would like to work on, and I’m sure we will—and of course there are the breaking stories.
There’s a lot of smoke there. Should the Board of Elections look into it? You have to ask them. I think there could be fallout if they don’t. Then you have to hold them accountable: Why didn’t you? It’s all speculative at this point, because we just have no idea what they’re going to do.
* Correction: The original version of this sentence incorrectly referred to a 2010 state Supreme Court ban. The 2010 ban was the result of a law; the two-year court fight that ensued ended in a 2012 court decision upholding the law. CJR regrets the error.
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