@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Campaign donation crops up from Chemours' head lobbyist

Posted May 21, 2018 5:00 a.m. EDT

— A political action committee tied to GenX manufacturer Chemours gave a maximum contribution to House Speaker Tim Moore last month, one day after a company lobbyist made a small donation to the PAC.

The $5,200 contribution came from the Manufacturers Alliance PAC, which gave the same amount to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger in December. These represent the PAC's biggest donations in years, and Berger and Moore are the top leaders in the General Assembly.

Chemours' head state government affairs executive, Jeff Fritz, who is based in Indiana, gave the PAC $500 on April 3. It appears to be his first donation to the PAC and the first time he's donated to an entity that plays in North Carolina state politics. The next day, the PAC made its contribution to Moore's campaign fund.

Fritz said Friday the donation was a personal one and that he didn't ask the PAC to turn around and give to Moore.

"Certainly not," he said via telephone. "The two would not be connected."

Chemours is under attack for dumping GenX and other chemicals into the Cape Fear River, a fact made public last June by the Wilmington StarNews, and the company has kept a low political profile since the scandal broke.

Campaign finance database searches for key employee names haven't turned up donations, and the company doesn't have a lobbyist registered in North Carolina. Its last one, John Merritt, who was chief of staff for former Gov. Mike Easley, resigned last September after the GenX story broke.

Fritz was invited to testify before a state Senate committee on the matter last year, but did not appear. Legislative officials set out an empty chair and a placard with his name on it, then the committee chairwoman announced he would not attend.

Chemours is part of the North Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, which has a PAC that doesn't keep a lot of cash on hand and tends to operate in four to low five figures in a given year. Fritz's $500 donation in April was the PAC's largest donation of the quarter.

PAC officials did not return phone messages Friday. Spokespeople for Moore, R-Cleveland, and Berger, R-Rockingham, either didn't immediately return messages or declined to comment.

The PAC has given to both leaders before, sending their campaigns $5,000 each on Oct. 27, 2016.

The GenX issue has been back and forth before the legislature, with the House and the Senate divided over policy and both chambers aligning against Gov. Roy Cooper on how the state should respond. Leaders for both chambers announced a deal Thursday on legislation they said would empower Cooper's administration to shut Chemours down to stop air emissions of GenX and other chemicals from the company's Fayetteville Works plant in Bladen County.

Environmental attorneys who have pushed the administration to do something similar said the state already has this power and that the Republican-backed bill could actually stymie regulatory efforts. The Southern Environmental Law Center said the bill "appears intended to protect the polluter, Chemours."

Berger's spokeswoman said the bill would make sure there is no question about the state's authority, given that the Department of Environmental Quality "has seemed unwilling to take strong action against Chemours to date."