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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: 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.

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. 

Ethics, lobbying, campaign finance merger discussed

Legislators considering combining lobbyist reporting, campaign finance reporting and ethics under one agency heard from some of the people responsible for those jobs that that they didn't want their work taken away.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, whose office registers lobbyists and shares administration of the state lobbying law with the state Ethics Commission, told legislators today that her office should keep its responsibilities.

"Consolidation for the sake of consolidation should not be the highest value in the discussion," she said.

State Board of Elections Chairman Larry Leake said the campaign finance unit needs more employees but should stay where it is.

The Board of Elections handles not only state campaign and PAC reports, but supervises local boards of elections as they review county filings, he said.

But whatever happens ot campaign finance, he said, investigations should be in its own division.

Sen. Bob Rucho gigged Leake over the board's handling of an investigation into Gov. Bev Perdue's campaign flights, suggesting that the agency should concentrate on running elections since it didn't have enough time to completely investigate the flight complaint. 

The board, in a 3-2 party line vote in 2010, ended its investigation of Perdue campaign flights before holding hearings. Leake, a Democrat, told the agency's lead investigator to finish her work before interviewing Perdue's campaign manager because he wanted the report finished. 

"I know that your board was involved in a couple of episodes recently one of which you felt there wasn't enough time really to get an in-depth study of all the issues dealing with a particular complaint," said Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

Leake said administering elections is time-consuming, but "I believe that the fact that the campaign finance laws and the adminstration of elections and the folks running campaigns are so closely intertwined that it would be more efficient to keep that together."

Merger of election, ethics agencies stirs criticism

Efforts to merge and cut funding for three agencies responsible for oversight of ethics, campaign finance and lobbying activities in state government are one step closer to becoming reality.

Lawmakers are pushing to combine the State Board of Elections, the State Ethics Commission and the division of the Secretary of State's office that monitors the lobbyists' spending into a new body known as the State Board of Elections and Ethics. This agency would be created by January and would be under the control of General Assembly leaders.

The proposed merger is a part of the Senate's proposed budget and would cut more than $1.4 million and 20 positions, 15 of which are currently filled. Of the new Board's nine positions, six would be elected by legislators.

The proposal, also a part of the House budget, has attracted criticism. The merger would hurt not only the agencies, but would be a major blow to transparency in state government, warns Democracy North Carolina, a non-partisan watchdog group.

"The way this merger is being pushed so rapidly, crammed inside a budget bill without a thorough study, is completely irresponsible and highly suspicious," said executive director Bob Hall, in a prepared statement. "You have to wonder if the Republicans are trying to cripple these agencies and throw them into a state of confusion during the upcoming election."

Define 'liaison'

State Rep. Larry Hall is holding a reception and fundraiser tonight in Durham.

Dome's collective eyebrows rose when we saw a copy of the e-mail invite addressed to "Legislative Liaisons," the title generally given to lobbyists for state government agencies. Lobbyists, of course, are forbidden by law from contributing to candidates for the legislature or statewide office.

Hall told Dome Thursday that the event is a holiday reception and contributions are not necessary for attendees (hear that, fans of hors d'oeuvres?). And the "legislative liaisons" label on the e-mail is how his e-mail contacts are organized, he said. The term refers to anyone, registered lobbyist or not, who might have talked to him about issues before the legislature.

"We're certainly not encouraging anyone to violate a regulation and if we were, we certainly wouldn't be sending out an e-mail encouraging people to violate a regulation," Hall said, adding that he has never received and wouldn't accept a contribution from a lobbyist.

The event is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Durham Arts Council, and will feature Speaker Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat and Durham Democratic state Reps. Mickey Michaux and Paul Luebke and Durham Mayor Bill Bell.

Money flows for NC health care debate

When President Barack Obama comes to Raleigh today, he will visit a state heavily invested in the health-care debate where millions are being spent to shape its outcome.

The pharmaceutical industry, working to fight off new generic competitors and Canadian imports, employs 118,000 people in North Carolina. Medical schools churn out doctors torn between careers as specialists or taking the less lucrative but sorely needed path of primary care. And major corporations such as Lowe's Home Improvement are trying to figure out how to cover their employees' medical needs.

In all, North Carolina companies and agencies with an interest in shaping the bills that may reform the nation's health-care system have spent $4.8 million this year in Washington lobbying — a jump of nearly 40 percent over this time a year ago, according to an analysis by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer.

National pharmaceutical companies with significant interests in North Carolina have spent millions more. Together, lobbying dollars for GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, Biogen and Wyeth have shot up 23.8 percent over this time last year, to $15.7 million.

GlaxoSmithKline, which spent $4.7 million in the first six months of this year, has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park. The other companies either now have or plan to build drug manufacturing plants in the state.

The lobbying boost comes as the health industry also pours thousands of dollars into lawmakers' campaign chests. The state's two senators sit on the Senate health committee that wrote significant chunks of the reform bill. Several Democratic lawmakers are viewed as sitting on the fence about reform. (N&O)

On Wednesday, the health care debate reaches a fever pitch in Raleigh at the president's town hall and a rally by opponents to his plan. Throughout the day, Dome will bring you the latest on who's there, who's not, what they're saying and what it all means.

You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

McCrory, Perdue to talk ethics

Beverly Perdue and Pat McCrory have agreed to take questions about ethics, lobbying and campaign fundraising at a forum next month sponsored by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying Government Reform.

The forum begins 11 a.m. Sept. 16 at the Marbles Museum in downtown Raleigh. Each of the gubernatorial candidate will appear individually, give a statement and then take questions, reports Dan Kane.

Jane Pinsky, the coalition's director, said some of the issues the two candidates are likely to tackle include curbing lobbyists' roles in raising campaign money, full disclosure of major campaign fundraising, increasing the openness of government meetings and the availability of legislative documents, and preventing lawmakers from soliciting lobbyists to contribute to not-for-profits.

A new lobbyist for reform

The N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Governmental Ethics Reform has a new executive director, Jane Pinsky, who has a long history as a lobbyist.

Since coming to North Carolina in 1989, Pinsky has lobbied for a number of public and private organizations, ranging from AAA of the Carolinas to the N.C. Foundation for Nursing, reports Dan Kane.

Pinsky has also lobbied the federal government on behalf of the American Nurses Association and the National Women's Employment Project, and served as deputy director for NARAL, formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action League.

The coalition was formed more than two years ago to push for more stringent lobbying, ethics and campaign finance laws.

Lawmakers have acted on many of the coalition's goals, partly in response to the scandals involving former House Speaker Jim Black, who is now serving a five-year prison sentence for public corruption.

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