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Morning Memo: Ahead of 2014 race, Berger, Tillis hit by national Democrats

2014 WATCH: National Democrats hit potential GOP candidates Tillis, Berger on Ryan budget. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis are making enough moves toward challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagain in 2014 that its attracting the attention of national Democrats. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is asking whether the two Republicans support Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan. "Republicans in Washington are back with their Medicare-busting budget plan, but potential GOP Senate hopefuls Phil Berger and Thom Tillis have yet to tell North Carolinians where they stand," starts a statement from the DSCC set for release later Tuesday.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House will consider a bill to curtail local building design standards that local mayors want stopped dead in its tracks (more below) as well as a measure to limit tanning beds for those under age 18. House convenes at 1 p.m.; Senate convenes at 2 p.m. Gov. Pat McCrory will make a school safety announcement in Apex in the morning.

***Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for exclusive North Carolina political news and analysis. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Read more below.***

Morning Memo: Voter ID talk continues, McCrory job rating steady

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The voter ID talk continues today at 1 p.m. in a House committee after more than four hours of comments Tuesday about the topic -- but not an actual bill. (More on this below.) Other House committees will consider an immigration measure to restrict the use of Mexican consular documents and a bill to limit lottery advertising. The House convenes at 3 p.m. The Senate at 2 p.m. to take a final vote on the Charlotte aiport authority. A Senate committee will consider UNC Board of Governors nominations at a 4 p.m. meeting. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his schedule.

McCRORY JOB RATING HOLDS STEADY: The Republican governor's approval rating stabalized in the latest Public Policy Polling survey after a month in which his negatives spiked. The March poll from the Democratic firm put McCrory's approval rating at 49 percent with 35 percent disapproving. Another 16 percent remain unsure. Pollster Tom Jensen previewed the numbers Tuesday on News14's Capital Tonight program with Tim Boynum. Check Dome for more when the full poll is released later Wednesday.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the shot of caffeine that gets the North Carolina political crowd started. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Read more news and analysis below.***

Morning Roundup: Meet McCrory's new environmental chief

The man Gov.-elect Pat McCrory appointed to run the state's environmental agency isn't convinced about global warming. And he’s anxious to move the needle back from what he sees as over-regulation toward what he promises will be a middle ground that protects the environment without hindering economic growth. Meet John Skvarla here.

More political news:

--President Obama cuts short his vacation with automatic budget cuts looming.

--More than 300 shipyard workers in North Carolina could stop loading and unloading cargo ships as of midnight Saturday, the result of stalled contract talks that threaten to idle more than 14,500 dockworkers at 15 of the nation’s major shipping ports.

Perdue goes nuclear

Gov. Bev Perdue took a field trip to the Harris nuclear plant this week, and no, she didn't get to push any buttons or turn any dials.

The Progress Energy plant is located 22 miles southwest of Raleigh.

Perdue, a Democrat, has been thinking a lot about energy lately, said spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson. A panel she created about offshore wind energy met this week and the images from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been on her mind.

"As governor she had an obligation to explore nuclear as an option for the state," Pearson told Dome. "Before she is able to do that she had questions and wanted to see first hand how a nuclear plant operates."

Wilson says party funneled checks

A eastern North Carolina developer, fundraiser and Board of Transportation member testified that he gave checks to the Democratic Party that he expected to be in turn given to former Gov. Mike Easley's campaign.

Lanny Wilson said he and his wife wrote checks to the Easley campaign and were told to re-write the checks for the N.C. Democratic Party.

"It was my understanding that they would flow through the state Democratic Party and the Easley Committee would pay expenses," Wilson said.

Wilson said representatives of the Easley campaign told him it was legal to write checks to the party that were meant for Easley.

State law limits contributions to a candidate to $4,000 per election cycle. There is no limit on contributions to a political party, but checks cannot be designated for a specific purpose.

Utilities not ready to run on animal waste

North Carolina's electricity providers say poop-to-power isn't ready for prime time.

Progress Energy, Duke Energy and other providers have asked state regulators to delay and modify a 2007 state law that requires them to generate a minimum amount of energy from pig or chicken waste. The law, designed to promote renewable energy and efficiency, requires utilities to begin getting some energy from pig and chicken litter by 2012.

The utilities have been seeking proposals for waste-to-energy projects, but say they've gotten only limited and expensive bids. (N&O)

* The White House has indicated that it could accept a nonprofit health-care cooperative as an alternative to a new government insurance plan, originally favored by President Barack Obama. But the cooperative idea is so ill-defined that no one knows exactly what it would look like or how effectively it would compete with commercial insurers. (NYT)

* A Chatham County man and convicted sex offender is challenging a state law that took effect in December that forbids registered sex offenders from being within 300 feet of a school, playground, day care or children's museum.

James Nichols, 31, served six years in prison for indecent liberties with a teenage girl and attempted second-degree rape. A Chatham County sheriff's deputy arrested him in March for going to church because the church runs a day care. Nichols had disclosed his crimes to his pastor. (N&O)

Money flows to Etheridge

Among Triangle Congressmen, Rep. Bob Etheridge has the deepest pockets.

Etheridge, a Democrat from Lillington, has $895,137 on hand, according to the latest report filed with the Federal Election Commission. Etheridge had raised $326,561 during the first six months of the year, including $212,164 from political committees, reports Rob Christensen.

Among Etheridge’s major donors are the International Union of Operating Engineers, Smithfield Foods, the trial lawyers, Farm Credit association, Wyrick Robbins Yates law firm, McGuire Wood law firm, Progress Energy, beer wholesalers, Committee for Rural Electrification, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Committee for the Advancement of Southeast Cotton, Wine and Spirits Wholesalers, and Becton Dickenson.

Rep. Brad Miller, a Democrat from Raleigh, reported having $70,654 on hand. During the past six months he raised $119,704 including $62,700 from PACs. Among his larger donors was the American Association for Justice, Farm Credit Association, the United Auto Workers, United Association (building tradesmen) Raytheon Corp, National Community Pharmacists and the Airline Pilots.

Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, reported having $271,619 on hand. He reported raising $59,631 during the first months including $52,000 from PACs. Those included United Parcel, John Deere, Airline Pilots Association, the trial lawyers, Honeywell International, Motorola, Deloitte & Touche and CSX Transportation.

The consulting loophole, revisited

Don BeasonDon Beason is being investigated for using the consulting loophole.

As previously noted, the lobbyists must tell the Secretary of State how much they are being paid to argue a special interest's cause before the legislature under state law.

But they do not have to disclose any secondary contracts for political consulting or other non-lobbying work.

Once the state's top lobbyist, Beason often broke up his contracts this way, possibly underreporting his pay from BB&T, IBM and Progress Energy.

His contract with BB&T was exactly one-tenth what he earned from Catawba County during a similar period. (Contracts with government agencies would not benefit from the loophole because they are public anyway.)

A special agent with the Secretary of State said in a court filing that the Albemarle Mental Health Center also underreported its payments.

"The Center was being directed by Donald R. Beason to report a significantly reduced amount and not the actual amount of compensation," agent John Lynch wrote in a court filing.

An audit of the mental health center first showed the discrepancy.

Secretary of State investigates Beason

Former lobbyist Don Beason is being investigated.

In a four-page statement filed in Wake County Superior Court, a special agent with the N.C. Secretary of State's lobbying compliance division wrote that he thinks Beason directed some of the 24 groups and companies for which he and his son lobbied in 2007 to include inaccurate information on disclosure forms.

"I have discovered a pattern of under reporting of the lobbyist compensation," agent John M. Lynch wrote. "This under reporting is often done at the instruction of the lobbyist without any written or substantial justification."

The agent said Beason made one request of the Albemarle Mental Health Center, a regional facility in Elizabeth City.

State law treats many reporting violations as misdemeanors.

The affidavit was filed in mid-March in Wake County seeking a judge's help in getting records about Beason from Progress Energy, one of his requests. (N&O)

Hagan starts leadership PAC

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan has started a leadership PAC too.

The Greensboro Democrat created a political action committee in February, a common move for senators looking to help their colleagues and like-minded candidates, according to the Federal Election Commission.

So far, the Longleaf Pine PAC, named for the state tree, has received $26,000 in donations from PACs for the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the Fertilizer Institute, the J.R. Simplot agricultural giant, the K&L Gates law firm, Progress Energy, Safeway and Sun Healthcare Group.

As previously noted by Greensboro's Mark Binker, the custodian of records is listed as longtime Hagan supporter Art Winstead and the treasurer is Nancy Brenner, who has served on the State Board of Community Colleges.

Previously: Sen. Richard Burr's leadership PAC gave $308,500 in 2008 cycle.

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