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Black Downplays Role Aide Played In Bringing Lottery To N.C.

Posted October 20, 2005

— House Speaker Jim Black continued to downplay questions Thursday about the role inside and outside influence played in getting the lottery bill passed in North Carolina. At the same time, others continued to question whether Black and a former aide violated state ethics laws.

While serving as an unpaid political director to Black, Meredith Norris also worked for Scientific Games, a Georgia company that's expected to seek a contract to run North Carolina's lottery.

State officials are trying to determine if Norris and Scientific Games violated the law by not registering her as a lobbyist.

E-mails obtained by WRAL showed Norris set up a dinner between Black and an executive with Scientific Games. Norris even shepherded the language of the lottery bill from her company boss to her political boss. That exact language is now state law.

"Had no influence whatsoever on the passage of the lottery," Black said. "She was not a lobbyist. She was, as I understand it, hired as a consultant. End of story.

"We need to get over it and get on with getting the lottery implemented," he added.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Black released Norris from her position.

Bob Phillips, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause, said he believes the appearance of unfair access Scientific Games had to Black deserves review.

"I think it is inappropriate, and I think we do need to separate it," Phillips said.

So far, there is no indication that Black and Norris violated state ethics laws. But those laws are considered weak and incomplete compared to other states, Phillips said.

"We should try to get an ethics law that covers everyone passed," Phillips said. "That way, there's consistency and that way people know what's right and what's wrong and there aren't these gray areas and questions."

Because the Legislature has failed to make changes to its ethics laws in the past, House Ethics Committee Vice-Chair Julia Howard said she was skeptical that changes would be made in the future.

"It's very embarrassing to the speaker. It's embarrassing to all of us. We have a perception problem," Howard said. "I support ethics legislation, but it ain't going to happen."

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