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Civitas deletes story questioning cronyism in McCrory administration

The president of the Civitas Institute removed his story from the conservative-leaning think tank website last week that was critical about "cronyism" in Gov. Pat McCrory's administration and hit hard at his chief-of-staff.

Francis De Luca's story (cached by Google here) criticized the Republican governor for failing to change "the culture of cronyism and insider dealing in Raleigh" by pointing to his appearance at the Sept. 5 inaugural Minority Enterprise Development celebration. De Luca wrote that the event featured two speakers of a group tied to the coalition behind the "Moral Monday" protests and was hosted by the N.C. Women and Business Enterprise Coordinators Network.

The story noted that network is a client of Capitol Access, a lobbying firm led by Yolanda Stith, the wife of McCrory's chief of staff, Thomas Stith. It went further to say that it "may be that Thursday was not the first time that Ms. Stith’s clients benefited from a cooperative governor," highlighting how her clients budget cuts received only small budget cuts in McCrory's proposed budget.

Tracy Kimbrell departing Berger's office, returning to lobbying

Senate leader Phil Berger's chief attorney is returning to lobbying.

Tracy Kimbrell, the Senate president pro tem's general counsel, will rejoin Parker Poe, a Raleigh law firm and lobbying shop, Oct. 1 as a partner and co-chairwoman of the government relations team. Kimbrell worked for Parker Poe for five years before her 2010 switch to Berger's office, where she worked on issues such as regulatory reform and economic development.

Democracy NC calls for probe of lobbyists tied to McCrory, Shanahan

An independent government-watchdog group on Friday asked the state’s lobbying regulators to investigate lobbyists associated with the governor and the head of the public safety agency.

Democracy North Carolina wants to know if Gov. Pat McCrory’s former employer, the Moore & Van Allen law firm in Charlotte, and Department of Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan’s former law firm in Raleigh violated lobbying laws.

The questions are related to Moore & Van Allen’s representation of the Internet sweepstakes industry, which donated more than half a million dollars to North Carolina political campaigns, much of it through the firm. The Associated Press reported on that in April. Other questions deal with the close relationship between the Shanahan Law Group and the CompassNC lobbying firm, as reported by The News & Observer.

Democracy North Carolina executive director Bob Hall sent the letter to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. The Secretary of State’s office regulates lobbyists. A spokesman said the letter was being reviewed Friday.

Morning Memo: Crossover week begins at #NCGA; Ben Carson to visit Raleigh

Welcome to Crossover Week on Jones Street. Think the action’s been fast so far? Well, hold onto our elephant ears, this week lawmakers will be shoveling as many bills as possible through committee and out to their floors for a vote to meet a Thursday deadline dubbed crossover.

The House and Senate rules say that bills that don’t raise or spend money or propose amendments to the state constitution must pass either the House or Senate by Thursday to be considered during the session. Of course, rules are made to be circumvented, so there are many ways to keep legislation alive. Dome’s favorite: Strip a bill that has already crossed over of its language and insert your bill of choice.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Read more about the issues hanging in the balance this week at the legislature. And send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

GOP lawmaker defends his effort to repeal lobbyist gift ban

Lobbyists will once again be able to give freely to lawmakers and not disclose it under a bill filed this week by Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell.

The legislation, HB 640, relaxes many of the ethics requirements passed in the wake of the Jim Black scandal. Black, who was Speaker of the House from 1999 until 2006, served time in prison for accepting illegal campaign contributions.

Brawley, who is chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he didn't think a ban on gifts from lobbyists was needed.

"I see people with integrity and honesty around here," he said Wednesday. "Jim Black was convicted of laws that were already on the books.

"I have faith in the majority of people being honest. Yes, I recognize that there are rotten apples, but I don't pass laws to treat everybody like a rotten apple. And that's what I think those ethics rules do."

McGowan taking helm at N.C. Petroleum Council

North Carolina's lobbying group for the politically influential oil-and-gas industry is getting a new executive director for the first time in nearly four decades. The leadership change at the N.C. Petroleum Council comes at a time that state lawmakers are debating fracking, the most contentious energy policy in at least a half-century.

David McGowan, 33, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Realtors, will replace Bill Weatherspoon, who retired last month after 39 years on the job. Weatherspoon turns 70 on Tuesday. The Petroleum Council, a one-man shop that hires contract lobbyists as needed, is the state office of the American Petroleum Institute, the nation's voice of big oil and natural gas. "I'll be lobbyist, stamp-licker, envelope deliverer -- all of the above," said McGowan, who leaves the realtors' group Friday and starts with the state petroleum organization on Monday.

Morning Memo: Another gambling bust with N.C. ties; Hagan remains against gay marriage

ANOTHER GAMBLING BUST WITH N.C. TIES: On the same day Florida prosecutors busted a gambling operation that snared a company with major North Carolina political ties, an Ohio prosecutor leveled a new indictment against another sweepstakes company with Tar Heel ties.

The March 13 superseding indictment updated charges filed in May against VS2 Worldwide Communications, a company that operated illegal Internet sweepstakes gaming software, according to local news reports. The company's owners, Phillip Cornick of New Jersey and Richard Upchurch of Ramseur, face charges in Ohio of money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

The two men and their wives contributed more than $45,000 to North Carolina political candidates -- including Gov. Pat McCrory -- with more than half coming after their initial May indictments.

HAGAN ONE OF 11 SENATE DEMOCRATS NOT TO ENDORSE GAY MARRIAGE: North Carolina's Kay Hagan remains opposed to gay marriage, even though three prominent Democrats colleagues recently shifted their stances. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday (California's Proposition 8) and Wednesday (the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA) about same-sex marriage.

**More on the VS2's campaign contributions and Hagan's stance on gay marriage below in today's Dome Morning Memo. Sends news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Thanks for reading.***

N.C. GOP sells access to Gov. Pat McCrory

The N.C. Republican Party has sent out invitations for a private "Governor's Business Roundtable" Wednesday evening featuring Gov. Pat McCrory and state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes, writes the Insider's Patrick Gannon. An email advertising the roundtable and reception says the "future of North Carolina" will be discussed at the event, which will be held at the GOP headquarters on Hillsborough Street.

According to the invite, a "Roundtable Host" pays $5,000 to get two people in, plus a photo opportunity and an annual membership on the Chairman's Advisory Board. For $2,500, an attendee gets a ticket and an annual membership on the Capitol Leadership Council. Two people can get into the reception, but not the roundtable, for $1,000. Checks should be made out to the N.C. Republican Party.

Morning Memo: 'Gov. Pay Raise', Sen. Hartsell face tough questions

GOV. PAY RAISE: The salary hikes Gov. Pay McCrory gave to his cabinet are stricking a chord. From N&O columnist Barry Saunders: If you saw our new governor live or on television banging away on a drum set with a band at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre last week, you already know Ringo has nothing to worry about.

For further evidence that the governor is tone deaf, all you had to do was read the newspaper the next day and see that Gov. Pat, henceforth known as Gov. Pay Raise, McCrory bestowed sizable raises on the people closest to him while sprinkling a pittance upon those outside his inner circle – you know, the ones who do the actual work.

You are reading the Dome Morning Memo, an analysis of the day's political headlines. Read much more below. Thanks.

AHEAD THIS WEEK: The UNC system committee considering a new five-year plan meets Monday. The NAACP holds is own legislative briefing -- sure to be much different from the one Republicans will hold -- Tuesday to talk about poverty and economic justice.

Morning Roundup: Auto insurers prepare for big push at General Assembly

As the legislative session approaches, interest groups are gearing up for a fight. A divided auto insurance industry will try again next year to change a unique regulatory system in North Carolina, which enjoys some of the lowest rates in the country. Read more here.

More political headlines below:

-- A former top Republican lawmaker faces new federal charges, including tax evasion, in connection with an alleged scheme to launder money from a government loan program to enrich himself and close associates.

--Advocates for injured workers say the state needs a safety net to catch vulnerable workers. They want state leaders to create a fund to pay for lost wages and medical bills quickly so these workers aren’t left destitute while their employers try to pay the claim.

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