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For ex-lawmakers, retirement pays nicely

It pays to be a legislative leader --- even when you're gone. Or out of prison.

Former leaders head the list of those receiving pensions under North Carolina's Legislative Retirement System.

At the top of the list: former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black of Matthews, who served time in prison for corruption. He gets $3,607 a month, according to the state Treasurer's office.

His predecessor, Republican Harold Brubaker of Asheboro, gets $3,444 a month to supplement his income as a lobbyist representing more than a dozen clients including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and GlaxoSmithKline.

Rita Harris a McGuireWoods VP

Rita Harris, former legislative liaison for the state Department of Commerce, started a job this week at McGuireWoods Consulting as a vice president in the Raleigh office. She'll focus on infrastructure, economic development, incentives, and state government relations.

Harris was the Commerce liaison since 2008. Before that, she did the same job for the N.C. Ports Authority.

Harris was a budget adviser to former House Speaker Jim Black, a Charlotte Democrat who was convicted on corruption charges and spent about three years in federal prison.

GOP legislative leaders milk special interest PACs for campaign cash

UPDATED: A fundraising invite for House Speaker Thom Tillis sent earlier this month announced a special "appreciation" event for the special interest political committees that lobby at the statehouse. The cost: $4,000, the maximum contribution.

It underlines Republican legislative leaders huge reliance on PACs for campaign money. According to a Democracy North Carolina report released Thursday, GOP leaders Tillis and Phil Berger raised more money from the special interest groups than their Democratic predecessors.

About 36 percent of Tillis' $946,000 raised so far this election cycle came from PACs. For Berger, the Senate leader, PACs contributed one-third of his $974,000, according to the advocacy group, which supports public campaign financing. In their last term in power, Democratic House and Senate leaders raised no more than one-quarter of their money from PACs, the report said.


Another House speaker in a North Carolina jail

Another disgraced House speaker is sitting in a North Carolina jail -- this one from Massachusetts.

Democratic guilty by association at the Capital Grille?

For a time it was a symbol of one of the biggest corruption scandals in North Carolina history: the bathroom at Charlotte's Capital Grille restaurant. That was where prosecutors said then-Democratic House Speaker Jim Black accepted cash bribes from a group of chiropractors.

On Monday, Republicans invoked that rendezvous in attempt to link Lt. Gov. and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Walter Dalton to Democratic corruption.

Wake schools sell land in Jim Black corruption case

The Wake County school system stands to get less than half of the $500,000 it was supposed to receive from disgraced former House Speaker Jim Black for turning over land in Matthews to pay the fine for his state corruption conviction.

Black was allowed in 2009 to turn over 9.5 acres near Charlotte to the school system to settle half of the $1 million fine he was assessed in his state corruption case. On Tuesday, the school board will vote on selling the land to the Town of Matthews for $295,427.

If approved, the school system would get $241,127 with the State Board of Elections receiving $54,300. Read more here.

Disgraced speaker said he just "Stepped on the sidelines"

Former N.C. House Speaker Jim Black, recently freed from federal custody on corruption charges, told a Raleigh TV station Thursday that he did "not ever, ever do anything for money in my pocket."

The 76-year-old Democrat served more than three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to accepting at least $25,000 in illegal, mostly cash payments from chiropractors, reports The Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill.

In 2009 a state judge sentenced him for bribery, a sentence that ran concurrently with the federal term he served in two federal prisons.

Speaking to WRAL anchor David Crabtree at his Matthews home, Black used the analogy of a football field.

"There are people who need you out of the way, want you out of the way, and there's no way to be careful enough to not cross the line somewhere," he said. "If the right people want to take you out of the picture, stepping on the sideline is absolutely prohibited. So, that's just how it happened.

"If I could go back, I would avoid some of those times when I stepped on the sideline."

Crabtree did not press Black to talk about the details of the illegal acts to which he pleaded guilty, such as his paying former Republican Rep. Mike Decker with $50,000 in cash and checks. In return, Decker voted to help Black retain the speaker's gavel.

Black was also convicted of accepting $25,000 in cash and a $4,000 check from chiropractors while pushing legislation to help the profession. Crabtree also didn't ask Black about the secret $500,000 "loan" he got from former lobbyist Don Beason. 

Black served 22 years in the House and eight as speaker. Asked why he became a target, he said, "I stayed too long, I guess. I do know that I stayed too long."

Black told the station that he pleaded guilty only to get the investigation over.

"There are some things that I just finally had to agree to get it over with," he said. "I spent over $1 million in legal fees, so I told my lawyer to make a deal."

Former speaker's wife dies

Betty Black, the wife of former state House of Representatives Speaker Jim Black, has died, it was announced on the House floor this afternoon. She suffered from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig Disease.

In 2007, Jim Black was sentenced to federal prison on corruption charges. He was released last fall. In 2009, he sough early release because of his own poor health and because of his wife's.

Jim Black's eye license restored

Former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black can resume work as an eye doctor after leaving a federal prison where he served time for government corruption, the Associated Press reports.

A North Carolina optometry board attorney said Friday the panel voted to restore Black's license to practice optometry Thursday once paperwork is finalized and he pays a fee.

Black left federal prison in Georgia last month. The Matthews Democrat had surrendered his license in 2008 while in prison. His lawyer said last month that he planned to write a book.

Former House Speaker writing a book

Former House Speaker Jim Black is working on a book about his experiences, not only about the scandal that led to prison but also about his 25 years in politics.

During his three years in the federal pen on corruption charges, Black amassed considerable notes that he will be organizing into a book, according to his Raleigh attorney, Whit Powell.

His years of incarceration, have also given Black plenty of time to think about social problems that political leaders are used to viewing only in the abstract.

“While in office, I made speech after speech about the need for education as a means of reducing the prison population,” Black said in a statement. '

“I now know, first hand, that this is true,” he said. “So much of what I have learned these last few years has re-energized my commitment to providing educational opportunities to our state's young people, as well as adult learners.”

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