Former state House speaker Richard Morgan has filed an ethics complaint against Lanier Cansler, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, alleging that the secretary is enriching himself by providing massive no-bid contracts to his former lobbying clients.
The complaint focuses on the admission by Cansler in a sworn affidavit that he still receives income from Cansler Fuquay Solutions, the lobbying firm he founded in 2005 after leaving state employment as the deputy DHHS secretary.
As a lobbyist, his firm represented several firms doing business with DHHS. When he was appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue as the DHHS head last year, Cansler quit his lobbying job and sold his stake in the firm.
At the time, Perdue brushed aside concerns about Cansler's cozy ties with contractors earning millions from the agency he now heads.
As secretary, the agency Canlser heads has approved no bid contracts for some of his former clients, including a $30 million deal with the Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence, a company that reviews state Medicaid claims and procedures.
CCME still retains Cansler Fuquay Solutions to lobby state government on its behalf. Meanwhile, Cansler, a former Republican legislator, is still paid $3,000 a month by his former firm as part of the deal under which he sold his share of the company when becoming DHHS secretary.
“The conflict of interest here is clear," said Morgan, also a Republican, in a written statement issued Wednesday. "Cansler-Fuquay owed Secretary Cansler money. He wanted to be paid. And giving a no bid contract to Cansler-Fuquay’s client helped the firm pay the note."
Through a DHHS spokesperson, Cansler said Morgan’s complaint is “clearly politically motivated and without merit.”
Morgan is currently campaigning for state Senate.
UPDATED to include response from Cansler.
Cansler said his statement of economic interest, filed with the Ethics Commission upon his acceptance of the appointment as DHHS secretary, fully disclosed his continuing compensation from his former lobbying firm.
A conservative blogger and GOP political consultant, Carter Wren, has been hammering Cansler's dealings with his former lobbying clients for months. As a defense, Cansler has said he has recused himself from decisions involving his former clients, delegating the review of the contracts to subordinates.
Morgan said Wednesday that is not enough.
"Delegating to someone you hire and control isn’t a recusal — it’s a dodge," Morgan said. "It’s like Mike Easley appointing the trustees of N.C. State University, telling them to hire his wife, then saying they made the decision.”