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Morning Memo: State to probe gambling money; contentious day in N.C. House

STATE ELECTION OFFICIALS TO INVESTIGATE GAMBLING DONATIONS: State elections officials are calling for an investigation of $235,000 in political donations to dozens of North Carolina candidates from an Oklahoma sweepstakes operator, contributions that they say may have violated state campaign finance laws, AP reported. Gov. Pat McCrory, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger are among those who received the checks, many of them mailed from a Charlotte lobbying firm where McCrory worked until just before he took office.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House will consider three highly contentious measures Tuesday: first, a sweeping immigration bill at 10 a.m. in House Judiciary Subcommittee B and a gun bill at the same time in House Judiciary Subcommittee A, and then, at 2 p.m., the full House convenes to hear a voter ID measure. Immigration advocates are expected to appear in full force at the legislative building today to lobby. Also today: a House panel will also consider a bill to adopt a state marsupial, among other state symbols, and a Senate committee will hear a bill to make hospitals more transparent in their billing.

Gov. Pat McCrory -- and legislative leaders -- will attend the NFIB meeting in Raleigh at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Later in the day, the governor will sign Kilah's Law (HB75) at a 4:30 p.m. ceremony at the Capitol.

Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- our thoughts are with Jamie and Nation Hahn's family and friends today. More North Carolina political news and analysis below.

Legislators ask congressional delegation to avoid widespread federal budget cuts

Democratic legislators warned that automatic federal budget cuts coming March 1 will damage the state economy, the state budget, children and their families.

The N.C. Budget & Tax Center, part of the N.C. Justice Center, is asking legislators to sign a letter to the state's Congressional delegation urging a "balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes additional new revenues and protects the state budget." The Justice Center is a policy and advocacy organization for poor and working-class people.

The budget cuts will hit military employees, defense contractors, Head Start students, and families who have subsidized child care. The automatic federal budget cuts were part of a 2011 deal between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans that allowed the country to raise the debt ceiling.

The letter says cuts to defense spending are expected to cost the state $1.5 billion in defense contracts and 11,000 jobs, and non-defense cuts are expected to cost nearly 1 million jobs nationwide and reduce the state's gross domestic product by as much as $2 billion. The budget numbers were taken from a U.S. Senate report from 2011.

Republican endorses Democrat state Senate candidate Brad Salmon

Brad Salmon, Democratic candidate for North Carolina Senate District 12, picked up an endorsement from a Republican who is also seeking a seat in the state Senate.

Don Davis of Erwin is a former member of the state House who ran for the Republican nomination in District 12 this year, and he picked Salmon over his primary opponent, Ronald Rabin.

Group targets Democratic lawmakers

An independent group associated with Raleigh businessman Art Pope has begun early mailings targeting Democratic legislators.

A group called Real Jobs NC has in recent days sent mailers into the House districts of Majority Leader Hugh Holliman of Lexington, Cullie Tarleton of Blowing Rock, Alice Underhill of New Bern, Chris Heagarty of Raleigh and senators Don Davis of Snow Hill, Tony Foriest of Graham, Steve Goss of Boone, John Snow of Murphy and Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville, according to the state Democratic Party, reports Rob Christensen.

The mailer accuses the lawmakers of having “voted to raise taxes over a billion dollars to pay for their pork spending projects.”  The flyer is illustrated with photographs of a table cloth, barbecue sauce and utensils.

The mailer missed its mark in the case of Heagarty, who was not in the legislature in 2009 when the tax increase passed.

Heagarty's campaign called the ad “dishonest and desperate” and said it was looking into legal action against the group.

“The voters need an explicit correction of the mistake, a real one and not just one more attack ad, and an apology from this special interest group for misleading them,” said Mike Radionchenko, Heagarty's campaign manager.

Roger Knight, an attorney for the Real Jobs NC, said the flyer sent into Heagerty's district had the wrong citation when it cited the 2009 vote.

“The citation was wrong,” Knight said. “Real Jobs NC will clarify the issue in future mailings.”

The group is a so-called 527 organization, named after a section of the federal tax code. Among its officers are Pope, a former state House member and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, who has been active in funding a number of conservative organizations in Raleigh.

According to campaign records, the group has received donations from $100,000 from Variety Wholesalers, Pope's company; $300,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Alexandria, Va., a group chaired by former national GOP chairman Ed Gillespie; and $100,000 from, a website started by Wilmington businessman Fred Eshelman.

Dome Memo: Speeding and the Senate race

ABOVE THE LAW: State Sen. Don Davis learned a little bit about public relations this week when he wondered aloud to a reporter whether lawmakers conducting public business should be exempt from speeding tickets. Davis, a Snow Hill Democrat, had been stopped in Zebulon and was concerned about the length of the traffic stop. Day after his comments were reported, Davis issued a statement in which he clarified that he does not believe lawmakers are above the law.

DEBATE CLUB: The Democrats running for U.S. Senate participated in a debate that featured some gentle nudging among the candidates and some less-than-gentle nudging of Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Memorable lines include little-known candidate Ann Worthy explaining that as a teacher, she couldn't possibly do any worse in Congress than the lawyers and politicians already there.

THE CHOICE: Speaker Joe Hackney signaled that during the campaign, Democrats intend to portray Republicans as a party that can't or won't govern. Meanwhile Republicans are gearing up for a campaign based on public discontent about Gov. Bev Perdue and President Barack Obama.

IN OTHER NEWS: Ruffin Poole, an aide to former Gov. Mike Easley, is set to face a trial on corruption charges May 3. Attorney General Roy Cooper named a new head of his office's Consumer Protection Division. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin will headline the Democrats' Jefferson Jackson Dinner.

Davis says he does not believe lawmakers are above the law

State Sen. Don Davis has issued a statement clarifying his objections to a traffic stop that he said made him late for a meeting at the legislature.

Davis, a Snow Hill Democrat, was stopped for speeding in Zebulon on March 31. He complained to the town about the length of the traffic stop and wondered to reporter Johnny Whitfield whether there was a law that would exempt lawmakers on their way to do public business from such delays.

That question raised plenty of eyebrows in the North Carolina political scene. Louis Pate of Mount Olive, a Republican running for Davis' seat launched an attack on Davis, accusing the senator of believing he was above the law.

Today, Davis issued a statement. 

I do not believe that legislators are above the law or should be exempt from speeding laws. I take my work seriously, and was too focused on getting in to my committee meeting that day. The apparent confusion during the traffic stop arose from the amount of time it took to issue the citation. Certainly, I would have accepted the citation if it was offered to me sooner. In spite of any confusion on my part, I commend Officer Thomas and Lt. Grossman for their professionalism.

As a former mayor and now a state senator, I have a great deal of respect for our law enforcement community, and believe that it is important for everyone including myself to obey the law. I plan to pay this citation, and have never had plans of introducing legislation to exempt lawmakers from speeding laws.

Traffic stop has Davis wondering if lawmakers should be exempt from speeding laws

A state senator stopped in Zebulon as part of a crackdown on speeders complained to town officials that the stop took too long.

Sen. Don Davis, a Democrat from Snow Hill, was stopped March 31 on U.S. 264 near N.C. 39 as part of a multi-agency traffic checkpoint, Johnny Whitfield reports.

Wendell police Officer Jermaine Thomas stopped Davis’s car at 9:21 a.m. Davis told him he was on his way to Raleigh to attend a legislative committee meeting.

According to Davis, Thomas returned to his police cruiser to issue the citation.

After waiting what he said was a sufficient amount of time for Thomas to write the ticket, Davis approached Thomas’ car and reminded him that he was on his way to a legislative meeting and needed to leave.

Davis told Thomas he wanted to speak to his supervisor. Thomas radioed for Zebulon police Lt. Bob Grossman to respond to the scene.

After Grossman arrived, he spoke with Davis. Thomas gave Davis his speeding ticket — he was cited for driving 84 m.p.h. in a 70-m.p.h. zone. — and Davis was released.

Reached by telephone Friday, Davis said he wondered if there were laws that would allow a member of the state legislature to avoid such traffic citations if they were engaged in public business. He said he addressed that question with Zebulon Town Manager Rick Hardin the afternoon after he got his speeding ticket.

Hardin confirmed that the senator stopped by town hall and voiced concerns about the length of time the traffic stop took.

Hardin referred Davis to police Chief Tim Hayworth.

"I kind of put it in his court," Hardin said. "It’s his issue and that’s where it should be."

As former House member Cary Allred knows, legislators have no special exemption from speeding tickets.

Pate wants another chance

Former Republican state House member Louis Pate wants a rematch.

Pate, a former mayor of Mount Olive who served eight years in the House, has announced he is running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Don Davis, Lynn Bonner reports.

Davis beat Pate for the seat last year by 6 percentage points in the campaign to replace longtime office-holder John Kerr. The district that includes Pitt, Wayne and Greene counties.

Pate said the outcome could be different next year when Davis won't get a boost from President Barack Obama.

Senate launches fireworks restriction

The Senate gave overwhelming support Monday night to a bill that would require a permit from the State Fire Marshall to issue a permit for fireworks displays.

The bill is in response to a fatal accident July 4 in which four men were killed and a fifth injured on Ocracoke Island.

"It is imperative for us to reflect and see how we can learn from tragedies," said Sen. Don Davis, a Snow Hill Democrat. "There is a need for us to bring more clarity."

Davis said current law allows a county commission to authorize an "expert" to run fireworks displays.

"When we look at the word 'expert,' I think that becomes the matter of much subjectivity," Davis said.

More after the jump.

Publicly funded campaigns shelved

Senate Democrats shuffled away a bill this week that would allow cities and towns to use taxpayer money to fund campaigns.

Sen. Don Davis, a Snow Hill Democrat who was shepherding the bill in the Senate, diverted it to the state and local government committee Thursday after a floor vote was postponed three times since May 20.

"It's not the time to explore the option for municipalities to authorize public financing," Davis said.

The campaigns would be set up similar to statewide judicial races and several other statewide offices. Candidates who voluntarily participate must abide by limits on contributions to their campaign, but they receive public funds. No city or town is required to adopt the program. City or town council members must vote to participate in it.

Advocates portrayed the legislation as a way to remove the influence of big money from local campaigns, while critics portrayed it as welfare for politicians.

UPDATE: The North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity lobbied heavily against the bill, and state director Dallas Woodhouse on Friday said lawmakers came "to the common sense conclusion that the public cannot stomach being forced to pay for campaigns for city politicians."

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