Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Money in politics, guns in bars

THE NAKED REALITY OF POLITICS: Much of politics is about money. But it's rare to see it so plainly stated in black and white: "We didn't give them money because we liked them," sweepstakes operator William George told the Associated Press. "We just knew they were powerful people up in Raleigh and they could get done what we wanted to get done. You give them your money and they're supposed to do what they say they're going to do." (More on the story below.)

TODAY IN POLITICS: The current State Board of Elections meets for the final time at 9 a.m. today before Gov. Pat McCrory's new appointees take office Wednesday. The board had planned to launch a formal investigation into the gambling money -- received by the governor, top GOP legislative leaders and some Democrats. But board members backed off the idea now that they are lame ducks.

AT THE STATEHOUSE: A House committee will consider a bill to limit pre-K programs, in part to children under the federal poverty line. The full House meets at 2 p.m. and will consider a controversial firearms bill to allow guns in restaurants and bars that serve alcohol. The UNC system is also opposed because it allows guns in cars on college campuses. The Senate will meet at 2 p.m. On its calendar is a measure to require a parent to report a child missing after 24 hours -- it is named after Caylee Anthony. Gov. Pat McCrory is attending two feel-good events Tuesday in Charlotte, first a YMCA prayer breakfast and then a Wells Fargo "Reading Above Par" event.

***More on the sweepstakes money, arrests at the legislature and Jamie Hahn death investigation below in today's Dome Morning Memo -- the place for North Carolina political news and analysis.***

McCRORY NAMES LAWYER WHO REPRESENTS UTILITIES TO REPRESENT THE PUBLIC AGAINST UTILITIES: Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday named a Raleigh utility lawyer to represent the state’s residents in utility rate hearings. He also named a state lawmaker and a public relations executive to the N.C. Utilities Commission, the state judicial panel that decides rate disputes and other matters. McCrory’s pick to head the Public Staff, Chris Ayers, has a portfolio of utilities as clients and used to practice law with Ed Finley Jr., the current chair of the Utilities Commission. Ayers’ experience also includes work as outside counsel for the N.C. attorney general in the AG’s recent challenge of a Duke Energy rate increase request.

REP. DOCKAM NAMED TO UTILITIES BOARD: McCrory also nominated Rep. Jerry Dockham, a Republican from Davidson County, and James Patterson of Guilford County to six-year terms on the Utilities Commission. Commissioners are also paid about $125,000 and require approval by the state legislature. Dockham, an 11-term member of the state House and chair of the House Insurance Committee, would have to resign his elected office to become a member of the Commission. Full story.

GAMBLING MONEY POSSIBLY BUNDLED: More from AP -- George, 67, said he handed his donation to an associate, who he then saw add it to a stack of checks from other sweepstakes operators. Those checks and others are the subject of a sworn complaint to the N.C. Board of Elections, which is investigating whether some 2012 political donations from sweepstakes operators violated state campaign finance laws.

McCRORY MET WITH SWEEPSTAKES ADVOCATES: A bill introduced in the House last month by two lawmakers who had received donations from Burns and others would legalize and tax sweepstakes games. In a March 15 interview, McCrory denied engaging in any conversation about sweepstakes legislation while working at the Charlotte firm. The governor has declined requests for a follow-up interview, but a spokeswoman clarified that as a candidate McCrory "met with representatives both for and against the sweepstakes issue."

Bank records gathered by Florida investigators and reviewed by the AP show the Oklahoma checking account Burns used to make his North Carolina political donations received large deposits of cash directly from his company, IIT. State law forbids corporate money from flowing "directly or indirectly" to fund political candidates. Full story.

A HODGEPODGE TAX PROTECTED BY SPECIAL INTERESTS: Second in a three-part series -- Once again this year, the sales tax is at the center of the legislative debate on taxes and spending. Proposals include taxing some services and eliminating some tax loopholes in order to reduce income tax rates. The favored status of businesses that sell to other businesses, however, could be expanded.

The state’s sales tax of 4.75 percent has become a hodgepodge, as the construction business shows. Buy stone mined from North Carolina? Pay no state sales tax. Rent a backhoe? Pay the full tax. Materials to erect a building for a business are subject to the sales tax, but they are exempt if they are used for a building owned by a nonprofit, such as a church or hospital. “I assume all it is, is, who was politically strong at a certain point of time and had enough clout to get the sales tax taken out of their products,” said Sam Hunter, president and CEO of general contractor T.A. Loving. “And it was probably all justified because it was good for the economic climate at the time.”

THE EXCEPTION: Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican who chairs the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, says this is the year for major tax reform. Rucho has discussed a plan to eliminate the corporate and individual income taxes in favor of a sales tax that includes more services. But Rucho has his own exemptions in mind. He says that business-to-business purchases should not be taxed. Full story.

ANOTHER PERK: In 2011, North Carolina’s beer distributors received a $280,000 windfall just for doing what they had been doing all along: collecting the state’s excise tax. It’s a perk that a handful of powerful interest groups have won from lawmakers over the years. Wine and tobacco distributors and liquor importers also keep two cents of every excise tax dollar they collect from their customers. Combined, state revenue officials say, those discounts cost the state close to $12 million a year, nearly double the cost from four years ago. Full story.

HOLDING SAYING NO, MORE THAN YES: George Holding promised voters he’d go to Washington to cut spending, and four months into the job, he hears pitches for what sound like good programs. But his answer is often the same: “Sorry. But no.”

As a member of Congress, Holding has had chances to make good on his promise to cut spending. He voted against $33 billion in supplemental spending for Superstorm Sandy relief, and against an estimated $46 million proposal to preserve Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields. He said he opposed the Sandy supplemental bill because some of the money was for non-emergency spending unrelated to the storm. But he supported legislation that sent immediate aid for the storm victims.

THE HELMS TREATMENT: In this morning's N&O, Holdings gets the Jesse Helms treatment being labeled "Rep. No" in the story headline. Holding probably likes the headline. But others see it differently. “I wouldn’t want to run on that record,” said Larry Marciniak, chairman of the Democratic Party in Franklin County and a resident of Holding’s district. Full story.

OBAMA GETS DIVERSITY WITH FOXX PICK: President Barack Obama tapped Charlotte, N.C., mayor Anthony Foxx as the new secretary of transportation on Monday. The choice is seen as part of an effort to boost the number of minorities in high-level positions on his Cabinet. The nomination of Foxx, who led last year’s Democratic National Convention, would make him the only African American selected for a Cabinet opening in Obama’s second term. Attorney General Eric H. Holder currently is the only African American now leading a Cabinet department.Full story.

WITH ARRETS, NAACP HOPES TO SPARK BROADER MOVEMENT: In the strongest statement so far against the Republican legislature, a group of 50 protestors marched into the legislative building Monday and blocked the tall gilded doors to the N.C. Senate chamber in an act of civil disobedience that led to 17 arrests. Barber said the preponderance of actions from the GOP lawmakers demanded a strong statement. “There must be a witness in the face of extremism and regressive public policy,” Barber said, calling Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders this generation’s “George Wallaces.” Full story. Click here for a photo gallery and see a video from the scene here.

BROYHILL GETS PUBLIC DEFENDER: A Wake County public defender has been appointed to represent Jonathan Broyhill, the 31-year-old man that police plan to charge with murder in the stabbing death of political strategist Jamie Hahn. Broyhill, according to court and law enforcement officials, remained at WakeMed late Monday recuperating from what they described as self-inflicted wounds. He had not been served with warrants tied to the week-old case, they said..

Joseph Arbour, an assistant public defender in Wake County, met with Broyhill in the hospital Monday. “With so many people asking questions and the attention there has been to this, it can sometimes be confusing to know who you’re talking to,” Arbour said. “We just wanted him to know what his options are.” Full story.

ON THE JOB DEATHS UNDERREPORTED: Far more workers die on the job in North Carolina than the state reports, according to a new study by workplace safety advocates. While the N.C. Department of Labor reported that just 35 workers were killed on the job in 2012, the report by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health estimates that the true number is more than three times higher. That’s chiefly because the state doesn’t count deaths due to vehicle accidents and workplace violence, or fatalities among the self-employed.

The report, “North Carolina Workers Dying for a Job,” also concludes that penalties are too low to deter unsafe working conditions and that “even repeat offenders get off easy." Full story.

DMV TAKE ON BIGGER ROLE: Car owners soon will start receiving new bills that combine state license tag renewal fees with county automobile property taxes – all payable to the state Division of Motor Vehicles. Full story.

BILL WOULD MAKE LOTTERY WINNERS PRIVATE: A recently-introduced bill would bar the N.C. Education Lottery from publicizing the name and hometown of lottery winners such as Buffaloe. Darren Jackson, Zebulon’s representative in the state House, co-sponsored HB 516 because he sees Buffaloe’s fame as a problem. “We were sitting in committee talking about how criminals could use public record to target gun owners,” Jackson said. “I thought, they can also use it to target lottery winners.” Fulll story.

ICYMI: THE TOP DOG: From WUNC's Jessica Jones -- "Many state legislators in the General Assembly aspire to be top dog, but few of them are as popular as the real deal: a miniature Pomeranian named Diva.
The fuzzy, four-pound lap dog with a personality to match her name comes to work at the legislature every day with the people she owns, Republican representative Nathan Ramsey and his wife, Robin Ramsey, who’s a legislative assistant." Full story.

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