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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.***
VS2 CONTINUED TO DONATE, LOBBY AFTER INDICTMENTS: VS2 is among the sweepstakes companies still lobbying to make the practice legal in North Carolina. Upchurch is listed as the director for the company who has hired McGuire Woods' D. Bowen Heath, Harry Kaplan and Johnny Tillett to lobby lawmakers during the 2013 session, according to Secretary of State records.
The total amount of political contributions the company made is likely much higher because not all legislative candidates report electronically, making their donors more difficult to track. In 2010, the VS2 owners and relatives gave $20,000 to Rep. Alma Adams and then-House lawmaker Bill Faison, reports show. Both are Democrats.
GOP DONATIONS: But in October 2012, six months after being charged by prosecutors, the company amplified their campaign spending efforts, giving $20,000 to Real Jobs NC, $2,000 to McCrory, $2,000 to House Speaker Thom Tillis and $1,000 to Rep. Chuck McGrady, campaign finance reports show. The three politicians are Republicans and Real Jobs NC spent $813,000 to help elect GOP candidates in legislative races in the 2012 election cycle.
WILL THEY RETURN IT? The campaign donations from the two men are less than the $235,000 that the owner of International Internet Technologies, Chase Burns, gave North Carolina political candidates. Most of those who received Burns' campaign checks -- including McCrory -- rushed to donate them to a nonprofit soon after his charges were filed against him in Florida. Also, the lobbying firm Moore & Van Allen dropped Burns' company as a client. No word so far on whether McCrory, Tillis and others will so the same with VS2.
--SIDENOTE: A Tillis spokesman said the speaker's campaign on Monday donated the $6,500 received from Burns to the Soldiers & Airmen Assistance Fund. The group is a nonprofit charity that helps Army and Air Guard families with financial assistance in hard times.
AHEAD OF SCOTUS HEARING, A LOOK AT DEMOCRATS AND GAY MARRIAGE: Time magazine took a deep look at Democrats in the U.S. Senate and where they stand on the issue after Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Mark Warner, a Democrat, expressed their support for gay marriage.
From Time: "The 11 remaining Senate Democrats who have not endorsed gay marriage publicly are: Mark Pryor (Ark.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Bill Nelson (Fl.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Carper (Del.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.). They can be broken down into three groups.
"The first group was blunt in their opposition. The offices of Sens. Manchin, Johnson, Heitcamp, and Pryor each responded to TIME in one or two sentences point-blank that they still don’t endorse gay marriage. ...TIME hit a wall speaking to the second group–Sens. Landrieu, Tester, and Donnelly–none of whom responded for comment. ...
"The rest –Sens. Casey, Nelson, Carper, and Hagan–still do not endorse gay marriage, but are at making clear signals that they are more moderate than some. ... Hagen (sic) spokesman Chris Moyer said his boss does not endorse gay marriage, but noted that she fought against previous state actions that would have defined marriage as only between one man and one woman. The Senator must be wary in a state who turned from Obama in 2012, and gave Republicans the governorship and three House seats."
DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT ON HAGAN'S MIDDLE ROAD: From strategist Thomas Mills' blog: "In the lead up to her re-election campaign, U. S. Senator Kay Hagan has been firmly staking out moderate ground. ... That said, Hagan is walking a fine line. While she can’t afford to alienate middle-of-the-road voters, she also can’t afford to alienate her base. So far, she has been coy on gay marriage, gun control and the current immigration debate, though she voted against the DREAM Act in 2010. In addition, she angered environmentalists by signing a letter urging President Obama to support the XL pipeline. Combined, these positions leave Hagan’s progressive base little to cheer about." Full blog here.
EQUALITY NC TO HOLD VIGIL TUESDAY: The state's leading LGBT advocacy organization is holding candlelight vigils across the state Tuesday to coincide with the U.S. Supreme Court hearings. In Raleigh, the hour-long event will take place at 7 p.m. at the Wake County Courthouse. It ill feature speakers who will highlight the "importance of the freedom to marry and equality" for LGBT residents, according to organizers. N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon and Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin are two of the scheduled speakers.
TODAY'S CASE: The scene setter. AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR N.C: From News-Record -- The Proposition 8 case has the greatest potential to affect North Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, known as Amendment One when it appeared on the ballot in May 2012. Full story.
TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Expect big action today at the N.C. General Assembly. The Senate will consider a measure to void the Dix park deal. The House will consider a bill to make gun permit records confidential. Both chambers convene at 2 p.m. Earlier in the day, a Senate committee will consider a bill that reinvigorates the death penalty in North Carolina and repeals of the already-weakened Racial Justice Act. In the House, the Finance Committee will take up the Carolina Panthers' bill.
The Charlotte chapter of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association broke with the state organization and issued a letter Monday that supports a half-cent sales tax increase on food and beverages to help pay for stadium renovations. (More on that story here.) The House Education committee will consider a bill mandating students learn to write in cursive and memorize multiplication tables. And the cahmber's transportation panel will debate legislation to allow motorcyclists over age 21 to ride without a helmet. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his schedule. He had breakfast with invited state lawmakers this morning, including the leading Senate budget writers Harry Brown and Pete Brunstetter.
REPUBLICAN UNC BOARD MEMBER EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT CLOSURES: From the Fayetteville Observer -- "We have such a wonderful system in this state," said Dick Taylor of Lumberton, a Republican member of the University of Board of Governors. "We've got a top-flight situation here, and then to try to take chunks of it - each one of these universities is very significant in some particular thing." Full story here.
SENATE LEADER'S SON JOINS CHARTER SCHOOL ADVOCACY GROUP: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's son, Rockingham District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., joined the N.C. Alliance for Public Charter Schools board of directors. Other new directors: Howard "Buddy" Coleman and A.L. Fleming.
CHARTER SCHOOL BILL MOVING: The younger Berger's appointment -- announced at the group's conference last weekend -- comes as the Senate prepares to hear SB 337, a bill to create an 11-member governing board for charter schools that operates independently of the state's Department of Public Instruction. The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hear the bill Wednesday. The Alliance's chief lobbyist is former state Sen. Debbie Clary, a Republican.
DOT PLANNING TO BUY NEW PLANES, HELICOPTER: From AP -- The Department of Transportation says its plans to switch out two North Carolina government-owned planes and one helicopter with newer and more efficient aircraft will save $500,000 annually. DOT announced Monday it will sell initially a Cessna jet and Sikorsky helicopter and replace them with a turbo propeller aircraft and Bell helicopter. The new plane can be used for aerial photography and ferrying state officials. The Bell helicopter will be shared with the Highway Patrol.
LAWMAKERS RECOMMENDED DITCHING HELICOPTER: A 2012 report by the legislature's fiscal watchdog agency recommended the state get rid of the Sikorsky because it flied less than six hours a month for $560,000 in 2011. The report said the Bell could be operated at 40 percent lower costs. DOT also plans to sell another airplane and obtain a smaller aircraft.
PAGING DR. BEN CARSON: Columnist Barry Saunders on the new darling of the political right: "His incessant, vitriolic assault on the poor and the government has made it hard not to conclude that the dude has gone loony. Or has a new book out. Or is planning to run for office. Or has a new book out." Full column here.
A PUBLIC VENTING: Supporters of the Dorothea Dix park plans turned out in droves Monday afternoon to oppose Republican legislators’ efforts to revoke the city’s lease on the prime real estate near downtown. About 300 people packed a hearing before Wake County’s legislative delegation, with others forced to listen from the hallway. Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, called the crowd “unprecedented.”
“You’ve thrown cold water in the face of North Carolina, and we are awake,” Tina Govan, a Raleigh architect, told the legislators, blasting the Dix park bill as well as efforts to weaken the power of the Wake school board and cities’ power to enforce housing standards. “Why are you meddling in the affairs of Wake County?” Full story here.
STATE BEGINS ISSUING ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS DRIVER'S LICENSES: Hundreds of young illegal immigrants across North Carolina took advantage of their first chance Monday to apply for the privilege to drive a car. The state Division of Motor Vehicles began issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants enrolled in a federal program that defers deportation for teens and young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children or stayed illegally after their visas expired.
More than 16,500 immigrants in North Carolina have received or applied for two-year work permits from the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Monday was the first day DMV accepted these work permits as proof – required for noncitizens – of a driver’s “legal presence” in the state. “I’ve been waiting ever since I was little to get my license,” said Adrian Razo, 18, a native of Mexico who has lived in Siler City “as long as I can remember.” Full story here.