Local News

Legal Donations Raise Broader Questions About Political Fund-Raising

Posted August 23, 2006

— When it comes to financial control, Richard Moore is the most powerful man in North Carolina state government.

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    By law, the state treasurer controls where North Carolina invests every dime of its $70 billion pension fund.

    According to the National Association of State Treasurers, Moore has more statutory authority over the state's pension fund than just about any other treasurer in the United States. He's won national praise for the management and performance of the fund, through bull and bear markets.

    Some of Moore's investment decisions reward him in other ways, too, however.

    As a likely Democratic contender for governor, Moore gets a healthy boost to his campaign war chest from people who do business with his office.

    WRAL researched the treasurer's campaign finance reports to confirm just a sampling of the money flow.

    Contributors connected to investment company Quellos of Washington state gave Moore's campaign at least $26,000 in recent years. Taconic workers handed over at least $13,000. Broyhill Asset Management contributed $4,500. People connected to Franklin Street Partners of Chapel Hill have contributed at least $92,000 to Moore since 2000.

    They are all legal, reported campaign donations.

    At the same time, Moore has directed more than $500 million -- under 1 percent of the state's pension holdings -- into funds managed by those companies.

    When WRAL asked Moore whether that was a conflict of interest, the treasurer responded: "It would be incredibly short-sighted for me to manage the state's money based on political concerns."

    Bob Hall, of the government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, tracks campaign money for a living. Although most of it follows the law, he sees a growing perception of "pay to play."

    "We have a crazy system where you can give money to a politician, then do business with the same politician," he told WRAL.

    Moore is not alone in his collection practices. His predecessor, Harlan Boyles, raised money from financial managers contracted with the treasurer's office.

    Gov. Mike Easley, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and many other politicians take contributions from people who have done or hope to do business with the state.

    Moore, however, makes direct decisions on which companies can invest pension funds.

    Hall said the system may be legal, but it is flawed.

    "It smells bad.... The donors get tainted, and the public hates it. Nobody's really liking this system, but, somebody's got to change it," Hall said. "Who's going to be the leader to change it?"

    Moore said he welcomes the debate over changes.

    For now, he is standing by full reporting of contributions and his track record.

    "People have a right to know who's giving any politician money," Moore said. "You've got to do the public's business in the right way every day, and I strive to do that every day."

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