Pulling pages out of the Black playbook

By Scott Mooneyham | Apr 29, 2013

RALEIGH -- As much as I have referenced Jim Black in this column over the years, readers might conclude that I believe the former Democratic House speaker is a terrible person.


It would be the wrong conclusion.


I suspect that I have a better opinion of Black than many of the people who move through the Legislative Building every day.


Many of them would like to believe that Black ended up in prison because of some moral failing or defect, which they lack. It is a comforting thought.


I believe he ended up in prison because he is human. Being human, and standing at what was then a relatively new confluence of power and money -- with much of the campaign money spent by House Democrats flowing through him -- holding onto political power became its own end.


He then acted recklessly to achieve that end.


So, it becomes difficult not to use Black as a point of reference and warning to the current political class in Raleigh.


Unfortunately, many have shown no interest in heeding the warning. Rather, they seem to have stumbled upon the Black playbook and decided to duplicate some of it.


Campaign watchdog group Democracy North Carolina and the Associated Press recently reported on a pattern of donations from video sweepstakes operators to legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory that seem awfully reminiscent of Black's wheeling and dealing.


An elections complaint filed by Democracy North Carolina notes that a series of checks from indicted sweepstakes software owner Chase Burns and others in the industry show owners incorrectly identified as working for lobbying firms McGuire Woods and Moore & Van Allen, the firm that employed McCrory while he ran for governor.


The confusion is likely because lobbyists from those firms delivered the checks. The AP reported that most of the $235,000 in checks from Burns were delivered to candidates by Moore & Van Allen.


That and other patterns identified by Democracy North Carolina raise the possibility of improper bundling or another chart-topping hit from the Black era -- giving in the name of another. Campaign dollars also appear to have moved from corporate coffers into a trust controlled by Burns, raising the possibility that donations amounted to illegal corporate contributions.


The AP investigation suggests that the Burns donations were part of a larger effort by sweepstakes donors and their lobbyists to distribute more than $520,000 in political donations in the hopes of persuading lawmakers to reverse North Carolina's ban on video sweepstakes.


Those involved may well believe that all of this will blow over, that it is politics as usual, that it is much ado about nothing.


It isn't, not when folks who work for federal agencies well-known by their three-initial names are examining how money moved through the bank accounts of an indicted individual and some of that money went to North Carolina candidates.


And did Jim Black ever think, at some point, it would all blow over, no big deal, politics as usual?


Did it? Was it?