Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday that a group of top business leaders helped to draft House Bill 2, something the North Carolina Chamber has denied for months.
The statement appears to put the Republican, who is seeking re-election this fall, directly at odds with the state's largest business lobby, which has supported GOP candidates in recent campaigns.
McCrory made the remark when he spoke to a forum hosted by ExitEvent in Winston-Salem Wednesday. His campaign streamed video of his remarks on Facebook, where they were still archived as 9 p.m.
During the event, the moderator pushes McCrory to respond to businesses that have objected to the law. The controversial measure, which has garnered national attention, requires that transgender individuals use restrooms in schools and other public buildings corresponding with the sex marked on their birth certificates rather than the one corresponding to their gender identity. The same bill pre-empts local minimum wage regulations and prohibits local governments from including protections for LGBT individuals in local ordinances or contracting requirements.
"I think they ought to read the bill," McCrory says at roughly the 26-minute mark of his campaign's video, insisting that most people do not understand what was in it.
"It's only a five-page bill. There are four parts of it, two parts the Chamber of Commerce helped write here in North Carolina."
That explicitly conflicts with statements North Carolina Chamber officials have made since April, although it jibes with speculation put forward by lobbyists and activists at the time.
"I think they cut a deal," Bob Hall, executive director of the left-leaning government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, said of the Chamber in April.
He pointed to the minimum wage provision and a now tempered section limiting the ability of workers to sue their employers for discrimination.
"They want things, and they have snuck things in or they’ve done things," Hall said of the Chamber in April. "People don’t see their fingerprints often, but they’re inside the deals."
The Chamber does have a history of funneling campaign support to legislative leaders and the governor. But in late April, officials would say only that they were studying the measure.
By mid-May, the group called for a few changes to the bill but by and large denied playing any role in shaping it. In an interview on Time Warner Cable News, Chamber President Lew Ebert was asked whether the Chamber played any role in shaping the bill. He responded, "Not at all."
Kate Payne, a spokeswoman for the Chamber, repeated that denial Wednesday night.
"The North Carolina Chamber had no part in suggesting, drafting or reviewing House Bill 2," Payne said.
It's unclear why McCrory would give an account conflicting with a major political player in the state. However, giving the Chamber ownership of at least part of the bill would make the measure appear more a product of the mainstream business community rather than the product of lobbying from social conservatives.
Phone calls and emails to McCrory's official spokesmen and the spokesmen for his campaign were not returned late Wednesday.
McCrory's remarks came on the same day when his campaign launched an television spot questioning, "Are we really talking about this?" in reference to House Bill 2 and the related controversy.