UPDATE: Since this post was published, Gov. Bev Perdue has decided not to attend the event. See a related story about that.
ORIGINAL POST: It sounds like something ethics reformers might raise questions about: Gov. Bev Perdue is headlining a fundraising reception next week that will be hosted by a number of big-time lobbyists.
The purpose of the reception is to raise money for a nonprofit group. The nonprofit happens to be backing one of Perdue's pet issues.
In this case, the nonprofit that stands to benefit is the ethics reformers: The event on Monday from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. is for the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, a bipartisan group that has been advocating for changes in Raleigh for several years.
Perdue is confirmed, and several other legislative leaders are invited and expected to stop in before heading down the street for Monday night's legislative session.
The public and lawmakers have been invited. Tickets are $50.
But the elected officials and their staff won't have to pay to eat and drink at the affair. The reform coalition secured an opinion from the state Ethics Commission that says an exemption in state law allows the legislators and public servants who show up to accept free food and drinks.
The exemption says public officials can take free food if they're all members of a committee are invited to come — and the coalition extended an invite to the full legislative ethics committee. It's one of roughly a dozen loopholes in state law that allows officials to take gifts even though officials say there is a gift ban in North Carolina.
Perdue has been making ethics and government reform one of her top subjects, and lobbyists and others who follow the workings in Raleigh will get a chance to mingle and have some face time as the short session gears up. One of Perdue's reform ideas for this year is to extend the so-called "gift ban" to all state employees.
Jane Pinsky, who leads the lobbying coalition, said she has heard some criticism about her group mixing lawmakers and lobbyists around a fundraising event. Asked why she is doing that, she said it's because the organization needs money.
"We have to keep the lights on," she said.
Pinsky was standing behind Perdue last month as the governor announced her reform agenda, one that did not include a range of ideas that have had significant support, including from Perdue on the campaign trail.
Pinsky issued a news release that said the coalition "applauds" Perdue's plan.
"Governor Perdue’s proposals," the coalition said in its release, "are a necessary and important step towards strengthening our state. They follow a number of actions taken by Governor Perdue and the North Carolina General Assembly and will be followed by others still."
The coalition said it invited House Speaker Joe Hackney, Senate leader Marc Basnight, Senate majority leader Martin Nesbitt, minority leaders Paul Stam from the House and Phil Berger from the Senate, and House member Rick Glazier, who is expected to introduce an omnibus ethics bill in the House.
Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, is also confirmed as attending. Some will be watching to see if there will be an appearance by Nesbitt, who is taking over for the departed long-time floor boss of the Senate, Tony Rand. Nesbitt is seen as a key person on whether ethics reforms will pass.
The fundraising event for the reform coalition will be at the law offices of Poyner Spruill, whose lobbyists include David Barnes, H. Glenn Dunn, and former lawmaker Marvin Musselwhite. They are registered to lobby for a number of interests, including the electrical cooperative, ElectriCities.
The listed "hosts" of the fundraiser include lobbyists:
- Al Adams of Parker Poe. He represents, among others, the lottery contract holder GTech; Fibrowatt, which builds poultry-litter incinerators and has been the subject of controversy; and Stanly County, which is involved in the Alcoa/Yadkin River issue and ongoing debate.
- Randolph Cloud, who represents a number of statewide associations.
- Peter Hans, a member of the UNC Board of Governors and a senior policy advisor with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough — which is also home to former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker. Hans represents IBM and GlaxoSmithKline, among others.
- Gerry Hancock, who represents the N.C. Biotechnology Center and others. He's a partner with Hugh Stevens, who has represented The News & Observer on media issues.
- Ed Turlington of Brooks Pierce, who represents a company seeking highway contracts; the IT company CA Inc.; Cisco Systems and more.
— J. Andrew Curliss