Raleigh, N.C. — Charles Thomas, chief of staff to House Speaker Thom Tillis, resigned late Thursday after admitting to a romantic relationship with a lobbyist.
Thomas served one term in the House representing Buncombe County. He became friends with fellow Republican Tillis during that 2007 session.
Tillis brought Thomas back to Raleigh in 2011 to manage the speaker's office.
Thomas, whose wife and children live in Asheville, was engaged in a romantic relationship with Jessica Hayes, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Home Builders' Association. He wouldn't comment further on that relationship.
"I have no interest in discussing my personal life," he said.
He did, however, add that his relationship with Hayes had nothing to do with any policy initiatives that came from Tillis' office. Any allegation of improper influence, he said, is "absolutely untrue."
Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said having an affair doesn't technically violate the state ethics code.
"There is, however, a certain perception that someone is getting favors because they're a friend of yours," Pinsky said. "Ms. Hayes had the advantage of Mr. Thomas always returning her phone calls first and perhaps his talking to her about things another lobbyist might not have knowledge of."
Thomas resigned after compromising photos of him and Hayes, taken by a private investigator, were given to The News & Observer newspaper.
Mike Carpenter, a vice president with the Home Builders Association, said Hayes resigned Friday after he asked her to quit.
Hayes could not be reached for comment.
Attempts to reach Thomas' wife were also unsuccessful. She battled breast cancer last fall with Thomas at her side.
Tillis issued a statement Friday morning confirming Thomas' departure.
"An individual's personal life should remain personal, but to avoid professional distractions from the tasks in front of us, I have accepted his resignation," Tillis said. "Charles is a friend who has spent many years in service to his state and his country, and I wish him well in the future."
Thomas said he believes the private investigator was hired and paid by a political enemy. He declined to name that person on the record but said he is looking into it.
"Clearly, (it's) somebody that's highly motivated and well funded, but at this time, I'm not prepared to level any accusations at any entity or any person," he said.
"No elected official has ever been targeted like this, let alone a non-elected staff member," he said. "This is going to open the floodgates."
Tillis has named policy adviser Chris Hayes to replace Thomas as acting chief of staff.