Raleigh, N.C. — Retired North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr has filed ethics complaints over economic development ads from New York State, alleging that they intrude on North Carolina elections because they mention House Bill 2.
Orr wants the federal government and the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics to investigate whether the ads violate the Hatch Act, which prevents state and federal agencies from influencing campaigns.
The ads produced by Empire State Development, New York's economic development agency, began airing in North Carolina in late June and promoted New York as welcoming diversity, from immigrants landing in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty to its adoption of same-sex marriage. A 60-second spot also shows a series of headlines about other states seeking to halt the relocation of Syrian refugees and adopting legislation many view as discriminating against gay and transgender people.
"North Carolina Bans Local Anti-Discrimination Policies," reads a March 23 New York Times headline included in the montage. That was the same day House Bill 2 was signed into law.
The controversial measure adopted a state anti-discrimination standard that excludes the LGBT community and prohibits cities or counties from extending such protections to them. It also requires transgender people to use the bathroom in schools and other public buildings that match their birth gender.
Several businesses dropped plans to expand in North Carolina in the wake of the law's adoption, and dozens of corporate executives have called on lawmakers to repeal it, saying it makes it harder to recruit and retain workers.
"Empire State Development has used advertisements in a manner that goes beyond appropriate economic development recruitment," Orr alleges in his federal complaint. "By using public funds to promote New York as supporting certain policies and implicitly criticizing contrary political decisions made in North Carolina, an ethical limitation has been breached."
The New York agency received at least $250,000 in federal grant money in the 2015-16 fiscal year, some of which might have been used to produce the ads, according to the complaint.
Although Orr said he thinks House Bill 2 was ill-conceived and doesn't agree with Gov. Pat McCrory's and legislative leaders' defense of it, he said New York has no right to insert itself into a North Carolina debate.
"Empire State Development has chosen to insert itself into a high-profile, controversial, public policy debate by criticizing North Carolina leaders that are up for re-election this election cycle," the complaint states.
The complaint names New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and several executives of Empire State Development.