Old video endorsement could pose ethics question for McCrory
Posted September 3, 2015
Updated September 9, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A video in which Gov. Pat McCrory endorses a political fundraising firm that worked on his unsuccessful 2008 gubernatorial campaign could raise conflict-of-interest issues for the Republican.
"If you are a small business, nonprofit organization or a politician like me, I encourage you to contact Neal Harrington and his team at Harrington Forward Thinking for all of your fundraising needs," McCrory says in the video, saying the Charlotte-based firm helped him boost his fundraising following the 2008 primary.
Although the video is roughly seven years old, an expert in the state's ethics laws says it could pose a conflict for the governor because public officials aren't allowed to endorse private businesses.
"You're talking about a video that was recorded years before he became governor," McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said. "On top of that, he didn't authorize the use of his title and didn't know it was being used."The video surfaced Thursday in a blogpost by the liberal N.C. Policy Watch organization. That report noted that a new version of the endorsement had been uploaded to social media that clipped out a few seconds of video in which McCrory introduces himself as Charlotte's mayor and a former gubernatorial candidate. That attribution indicates the video was recorded in late 2008 or early 2009.
"That was not a video that was supposed to be uploaded," Neal Harrington, owner of Harrington Forward Thinking, said of the edited version that was uploaded Thursday. "I'm getting ready to transition our company to offer online fundraising training."
As part of that process, Harrington explained he was working with some new video editing software and was trying to teach himself using the McCrory video. The edited video, he said, automatically uploaded to the YouTube video distribution site.
"Pat just called me," Harrington said when contacted by WRAL News. "I told him I was so sorry. I did not mean to do that."
Harrington has since taken down the edited version of the video, but the original, which was retitled in 2012 as "Governor Pat McCrory Endorses HFT," was still on his website as of 6 p.m. Thursday, as was McCrory's image. A check of the website on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 4, showed that both McCrory's image and the video had been removed.
"That video was taken years before Pat McCrory was ever elected governor," said Bill Constangy, McCrory's 2016 campaign manager. "It looks like the edited video has already been taken down, but no one had authorized it to be edited or the use of the governor's title."
Harrington confirmed he recorded McCrory following the 2008 campaign.
"He was actually my first client," Harrington said of McCrory. "I was doing it purely to garner additional businesses."
North Carolina's ethics law says that public officials like McCrory "shall not mention or authorize another person to mention the covered person's public position in nongovernmental advertising that advances the private interest of the covered person or others."
Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said that the ongoing presence of the McCrory video on the firm's website poses a problem.
"We think it violates both the law and the spirit of the law," Pinsky said after consulting with fellow government watchdogs.
Asked whether the video potentially violates the ethics law, Ellis pointed out it was old and taped years before the governor won election in 2012.
"I probably do need to change that," Harrington said when asked about the 2012 upload. "I wasn't aware that it said that. Based on what he (McCrory) said today, he can't endorse any company or anything."
Even if the video or website doesn't use McCrory's current title, Pinsky said his image may still pose a problem.
"Anybody who is looking at his website is going to know who he is," she said.