Governor Perdue signs ethics bill

NC Governor Beverly Perdue
August 2, 2010 8:22:30 PM PDT
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue signed a new law that aims to improve public trust in state government Monday.

The legislation is the latest response to a series of corruption and campaign finance investigations over the past decade that have rocked the Democrats who control state government.

Former Governor Mike Easley remains the target of a federal investigation for alleged campaign improprieties that include mishandling funds.

And Perdue has been criticized by Republicans after campaign donor Rusty Carter donated more than $60,000 through his employees. The Governor recognizes that those kinds of practices are not legal.

"You can only give your own money," Governor Perdue said. "That's been a rule in politics since I've been involved."

However, GOP Chair Tom Fetzer called the incident with Carter "pay-to-play politics."

"It's fairly obvious to me that Rusty Carter was buying himself a seat on the UNC Board of Trustees both, for he and his wife," Fetzer said.

Perdue said she returned the money and used the situation to keep pushing for tougher ethics laws.

She also said anyone found guilty should be charged with a felony.

The new legislation toughens penalties for illegal campaign donations above $10,000 and expands personnel information that must be released to the public about state employees.

It does not contain a requirement that state vendors be limited in donating to the political campaign of someone seeking a high state office that has the authority to award contracts.

Government ethics watchdogs, including Jane Pinsky, say one of the bills shortcomings is the revolving door policy that was praised on the podium.

"Were people being honest about this bill," said Pinsky with NC Coalition for Lobbying."I think they ... how do I put this? They would like to believe that it does all the things they say it does. Most other states, of which there are about 30 that have good revolving door laws have a year or two for a revolving door period, so that's a long way off."

"A state contractor or someone looking to do business with the state of North Carolina can still give and raise without any limits," said Bob Phillips with Common Cause said. "We ought to put some kind of boundaries on that."

However, that wasn't the governor's understanding of the bill.

"I think there was some prohibition in the way the bill was written that if it's in someone's department you can't do that," Perdue said.

But Pinsky agrees with Phillips.

"Twelve states, including Virginia, just to the north of us have pay-to-play laws," Pinsky said.

Both Pinsky and Phillips say the bill is good for North Carolina.

There is an ethics commission looking into pay-to-play and how to make that part of the legislation stronger. Its report is due out in April.

An earlier spate of scandals produced dramatic ethics and lobbying changes in 2006.

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