The State Ethics Commission has dismissed an ethics complaint against Granville Democrat Jim Crawford over a campaign ad staged on the state House floor.
The ad, "Stand," was filmed on the House floor, using legislative staffers as extras posing as lawmakers.
After WRAL first broke the story in March, Justin Guillory with the progressive political action group ACTION NC filed a complaint with the NC Ethics Commission, alleging Crawford used state funds in a campaign ad by using the chamber and employees on the state clock without reimbursing the state.
On May 11th, the Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint. Its ruling, available here, says its own investigation found that Crawford "did not use or permit the use of state funds in the production of his campaign advertisement" in violation of state law.
From the ruling:
"The investigation found that, when not in use, the House Chamber is open to the public at no charge during regular business hours. The investigation further found that all legislative employees who participated in the production of Respondent's [Crawford's] campaign advertisement did so on their own time or after taking leave to do so."
That finding is in direct conflict with what two staffers told WRAL when the story broke March 15th:
"Legislative staffers Gennie Thurlow and Cindy Hobbs said Thursday that they were on the clock during the video shoot, but added that there was no intention to break any rules. They said they were just trying to help out."
There's also apparently a lack of clarity about access to the House floor.
On both March 15th and 16th, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis said House members have access to the chamber floor at all times.
Nothing was said about public access. In fact, the chamber doors are kept locked when the House isn't in session. Access is tightly controlled by the legislative front desk staffers who conduct third-floor gallery tours for school groups.
State law makes the Ethics Commission's investigations and deliberations confidential, so no rationale was provided. And while Crawford volunteered a copy of the complaint's dismissal, he didn't offer an explanation of the clear inconsistencies the findings pose.
The only comment offered was by Crawford's legislative assistant Linda Winstead, who said Crawford asked her to tell us that "he hopes you feel guilty about filing this complaint."
(For the record, we didn't file it.)