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Morning Memo: Harris to enter Senate race; Black Caucus wants DHHS inquiry

MARK HARRIS TO MAKE U.S. SENATE BID OFFICIAL: Rev. Mark Harris plans to tell supporters Thursday that he’s decided to enter the race for Republican U.S. Senate nomination early next month, party sources told the Charlotte Observer. Harris, pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, has been on a "listening tour" around the state.

He’s expected to announce Oct. 2. Harris would join a list of GOP candidates that include House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary. The winner would face Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

WHERE CONGRESS STANDS ON SYRIA: An interactive graphic makes it easy to see where North Carolina’s congressional delegation -- and those in other states -- stand on the Syria question. Take a look here.

***Below in the Dome Morning Memo -- the latest on the DHHS salary controversy and state elections inquiry of a lawmaker’s campaign spending.***

Another donor to Gov. Bev Perdue under investigation

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby is looking further into the case of a wealthy Democratic campaign donor who helped pay the salary of a staff member of former Gov. Bev Perdue's 2008 campaign in violation of state election laws.

An SBI investigator went before the Wake County grand jury to provide a sketch of a case against Charles Michael Fulenwider, a Morganton resident who provided $32,000 to Tryon Capital Ventures in Chapel Hill, to help pay the salary of Julie Sitton, a fundraiser for Perdue's campaign who was paid off the books, investigators contend.

The grand jury issued a presentment, stating that there was probable cause to believe Fulenwider broke campaign laws. The presentment is a procedure used occasionally to give prosecutors an idea whether they have a case strong enough for a possible indictment. 

Fulenwider, according to Willoughby, has been cooperative with investigators and prosecutors during a longrunning investigation into Perdue's campaign activities. Sitton and Peter Reichard, Perdue's former campaign finance chief and an executive with Tryon Capital Ventures, have already pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the case.

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: McCrory keeps ties to private firms amid transition

A month after his election, Gov.-elect Pat McCrory remains employed at a law firm that lobbies state government even as he establishes his administration and controls a $660,000 pot of taxpayer money.

His dual role creates a potential conflict that makes government watchdogs uncomfortable. Another ethical move McCrory should consider, they suggest, is putting his assets in a blind trust. Read full story here.

More political headlines:

--Legislators seeking to eliminate $2.4 billion the state of North Carolina owes the federal government to help pay jobless benefits are prepared to unveil a proposal they also say would put the state unemployment insurance program on firmer financial footing.

Gov. Perdue refunds donors, gives $250K to party; $1.26 million remains

As noted in today's story, Gov. Bev Perdue is still sitting on $1.26 million as her would-be Democratic successor struggled to raise money. More details from her report:

Perdue started the year with $2 million. Since July, she directed $250,000 to the state Democratic Party and refunded $243,000 to individual donors. A campaign aide said she also gave $4,000 to Dalton, but the donation is not reflected in the records.

Perdue campaign spent $80,000 in legal fees

Gov. Bev Perdue ended her re-election bid in January but the Democrat's campaign spent nearly a quarter-million dollars  through June, including more than $80,000 in legal fees.

A campaign spokesman said the legal bills related to a criminal investigation of the Perdue campaign involving unreported flights on private jets and alleged under-the-table payments to a staffer. Two campaign aides and a major donor were indicted in November on charges of obstruction of justice. Perdue does not face any criminal charges.

Three hefty legal bills -- totally about $35,000 -- from May and June are not related to any recent probe, said Marc Farinella, a consultant speaks for the Perdue campaign. He said the lawyers -- criminal defense attorney Wade Smith's firm, John Wallace and another Wilmington firm -- represented campaign staffers who were interviewed as part of the probe, with most costs incurred in 2011. The latest activity dates to February and the lawyers waited to bill the campaign "to make sure there was not additional activity," Farinella said.

House expected to take contentious vote on gambling expansion

The big legislative showdown on a bill to expand gambling in North Carolina pits the Christian Action League against the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Each side took a turn arguing its case in front of the House Republican Caucus on Thursday morning. And each emerged suggesting the vote on the House floor this afternoon will be close.

Rev. Mark Creech, the league's executive director, called the vote count "mushy" with a number of undecided lawmakers still remaining. Unlike many controversial votes that break along partisan lines, the bill to enable a new 30-year tribal gaming compact needs an odd mix of Republicans and Democrats to pass. 

Attorney: Democratic donor a 'scapegoat' for Perdue campaign's failings

A top Democratic donor to Gov. Bev Perdue facing trial for felony charges is a “scapegoat” for the campaign’s failure to properly disclose campaign flights, his defense attorney said Friday.

In a lengthy court hearing, attorney David Rudolf put the blame on the Perdue campaign in an attempt to absolve his client, Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs, on felony charges of obstruction of justice and causing the filing of false campaign reports.

Attorneys for Stubbs and Julia Leigh Sitton, a former Perdue aide who faces the same charges in a separate scheme, are asking a Wake County judge to dismiss the cases.

Judge to consider whether to dismiss charges against two Perdue campaign associates

A Wake County judge is expected to hear arguments Friday morning in the criminal cases against two former campaign associates of Gov. Bev Perdue.

Attorneys for Trawick "Buzzy" Stubbs and Julia Leigh Sitton are asking the judge to dismiss charges of obstruction of justice and causing the filing of false reports stemming from an campaign finance investigation into the Perdue's 2008 campaign.

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