Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina Citizens for Progress came out with its third ad questioning Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory's ethics last week. When WRAL checked the first two ads from the group – one dealing with his work for Tree.com and the other questioning his work as mayor – we found the ads implied conclusions not supported by the facts cited.
This ad also attempts to suggest McCrory is somehow behaving unethically by citing a litany of facts that are by themselves not all that damning. From the commercial:
Announcer: "Pat McCrory: He's being paid by a powerful law firm that lobbies state government. But McCrory is not a lawyer. So what are you doing for them Pat? The firm lobbies for big oil, insurance and financial interests. But McCrory won't tell us what he's doing for the firm's clients and won't release his tax returns."
Video clip of McCrory: "But I'm making a living right now."
Announcer: "If Pat McCrory doesn't trust us to know his clients or see his tax returns, why should we trust him for governor?"
McCrory isn't a lawyer and has never claimed to be one. Given that, the ad makes two sets of claims:
- His law firm "lobbies state government," and the firm "lobbies for big oil, insurance and financial interests."
- "McCrory won’t tell us what he’s doing for the firm’s clients and won’t release his tax returns.”
McCrory describes role as consultant
According to his law firm's bio, McCrory "focuses on helping new and existing clients develop strategic initiatives in dealing with complex and sustainable policies which are important to both the public and private sectors."
Nothing in that job description describes lobbying per se, although the reference to dealing with policies important to the "public sector" could be a lobbying reference. When asked what he does for the firm, McCrory describes his role as more of a business consultant than anything else.
"We have a lot of non-lawyers working for our law firm. I provide economic development advice, policy advice and also client development advice," McCrory said after Saturday's debate versus Walter Dalton, the Democratic candidate for governor. He added, "A lot of law firms do work other than law."
One of the more interesting sets of non-law related services the firm offers is "event management" for activities related to the Democratic National Convention to be hosted later this summer in Charlotte.
Moore and Van Allen does lobby on behalf of clients, as the Citizens for Progress ad claims.
For example, Walter S. Price, a registered lobbyist who works for the firm, lists Tree.com and Stonehenge Capital Company among his clients on disclosure documents with the N.C. Secretary of State's office. Both could be considered "financial interests" as described in the ad. Thomas Sevier, another lobbyist registered with the firm, lists the American Petroleum Institute among his clients, covering the "big oil" aspect of the claim.
The clearest example of an insurance industry lobbying the client Moore and Van Allen may have had is Life Partners Inc of Waco Texas. That company no longer has a registered lobbyist in North Carolina, but in 2009, two Moore and Van Allen lobbyists were registered as working for the firm.
McCrory: Income not your business
The commercials second major claim is that McCrory "won't tell us what he's doing for the firm's clients." That's not exactly true.
"Pat consults the law firm on a variety of issues ranging from his experience in the private sector and service as mayor from energy to infrastructure to economic planning," said McCrory campaign spokesman Brian Nick on Friday. And McCrory has described his job to various media outlets over the course of the spring.
While N.C. Citizens for Progress is free to suggest McCrory could or should offer more specifics, the blanket statement that he won't talk about his work is not correct.
The ad also says that McCrory "won’t release his tax returns." This is accurate. McCrory has turned down requests to do so several times, most recently at Saturday's debate.
He acknowledged that the financial disclosure statements he has filed don't show how much he is paid by Moore and Van Allen. "Frankly I don't think that's your business, Stuart. And I'm not asking you for your income either," McCrory said, answering a question from WCNC reporter Stuart Watson.
McCrory's main competition for the governor's mansion, Dalton, has released his tax returns. They show, as one might expect, that he earned most of his income in 2011 from his job as Lieutenant Governor.
It's worth noting that calls for candidates to release their tax returns have not be a part of recent gubernatorial campaigns in North Carolina. It was not an issue McCrory or Gov. Bev Perdue dealt with much during their campaigns in 2008. And a quick check of news accounts from the time – as well as the recollections of fellow political reporters – does not show the tax return question being a particularly prevalent one in Gov. Mike Easley's races in 2000 or 2004.
That's not to say aspiring governors in North Carolina have never faced calls for their returns.
In an oral history interview, Gary Pearce, an adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt, talked about the decision to release Hunt's returns.
"One of the things that we did that we realized would help us so much was in early May was to release Jim's tax returns and statement of his net worth, which included everything – his cars and how much money he had in this bank," Pearce said.
Even before Hunt, Gov. Jim Holshouser released his returns. Holshouser, a Republican, was running as the Watergate scandal was breaking. In another oral history, Holshouser talked about resisting the practice.
"(W)hen Gene Anderson, during the campaign, my campaign manager, suggested that we come out with a proposal that we would disclose all our income, balance sheet and all that and suggested all the other candidates do it only because I was the poorest one around I think, and would do that every year if I got elected. I just thought the whole thing was nuts and didn't want to do it. And he said you have got to do it, you have got to do it. So I finally agreed and felt like I was literally just stepping naked into a bath right out there in front of the spotlights," Holshouser told the interviewer.
It's unclear when the idea of releasing tax returns fell out of vogue for those running for governor. One possible explanation is that many of the front-runners – including Hunt, Easley, former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker – earned the bulk of their money from government salaries.
Is the ad accurate?
As far as its specific claims, the ad is truthful on all but one point. McCrory has described his work for Moore and Van Allen, and the commercial says that he's been unwilling to talk about his job.
The larger question the ad raises is whether McCrory has disclosed enough about who he works for and his financial interests. McCrory has filed all the forms that state law requires.
The voters will decide whether McCrory should do more.