Fact Check: Ad against McCrory lacks solid conclusion

In a second ad, North Carolina Citizens for Progress suggest Pat McCrory had a conflict working both as mayor of Charlotte and an executive for Duke Energy.

Posted Updated

Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Citizens for Progress, a liberal-leaning group backed by the Democratic Governor's Association and others, rolled out its second attack ad criticizing Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory last week. 

The ad titled "Case Number Two," questions how McCrory could work both full time for Duke Energy and maintain a hectic, near-full-time schedule as mayor. 

What does the ad say?

Here's the script:

"Pat McCrory's questionable ethics, case number two: Duke Energy. While he was mayor of Charlotte, Pat McCrory also had a full time job at Duke Energy, but McCrory refused to disclose his hours, salary or responsibilities. McCrory even went to Washington to testify as mayor about a regulation worth $600 million to the company and then flew home on their corporate jet. Is Pat McCrory the guy to clean up Raleigh? You've got to be kidding."

The questions are pretty clear.

  • Did McCrory in fact work for Duke Energy while serving as mayor, and is there anything unusual about that? 
  • Did McCrory testify on clean air regulations and then fly home on a Duke Energy corporate jet? 
Attacks on McCrory avoid his Charlotte stronghold

Before discussing the ad itself, it's useful to note that it is running in several markets across the state, including Raleigh and the Triad, but not in Charlotte, where McCrory was mayor. 

McCrory has questioned this, saying that Democrats won't run the ad where people know him best.

A spokesman for N.C. Citizens for Progress says its a matter of cost, saying Charlotte is an expensive media market in which to buy television advertising. 

Did McCrory serve as mayor while working for Duke Energy? 

Yes. This is something that McCrory doesn't hide and in fact frequently talks about in stump speeches. 

"He packed his bags for Charlotte and went to work full time for Duke Energy. A management-training program put Pat through a rotation of digging ditches and climbing electric poles as well as stints in various management jobs from human resources to economic development," reads McCrory's campaign biography.

News accounts from the 2008 campaign detailed how McCrory had worked for Duke from 1978 until 2007, when he resigned to run for governor.

As noted in the fact check of Citizens for Progress' first ad, being a mayor of a North Carolina city is a part-time job. The annual salary for Charlotte's mayor is $22,000 with a $10,000 expense allowance and a $4,800 auto allowance.

Charlotte's current mayor, Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, is a lawyer, working in the corporate legal department for DesignLine Corp. Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins, a Republican, is the president of NAI Piedmont Triad, a business real estate services firm. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, an unaffiliated candidate, is a small business owner. 

As former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said in a prior fact check, "Having private employment is not only done frequently, but is necessary" for mayors in North Carolina. 

Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy, says that McCrory is not the only Duke employee who also serves in local government.

"We encourage our people to serve in local government," Williams said.

The other question that is implicit in the commercial is that there's no way McCrory could have done his full-time job and been such an active mayor. But Williams said Duke gives senior executives the freedom to set their schedules.

"Anyone who has been here 30 years is in charge of their own schedule," Williams said. 

McCrory, by the way, was in the company's economic development division, which helps cities, counties and the state attract and keep employers. As for McCrory's salary and exact responsibilities, "We don't discuss employee hours or salaries," Williams said. 

A McCrory campaign spokesman said the candidate has refused to discuss his salary and work hours in keeping with Duke's policies. 

Did McCrory testify on clean air regulations and then fly home on a Duke Energy corporate jet?

The answer is yes, but more background is needed. 

McCrory did testify before Congress in 2007 as a Mayor of Charlotte and a representative of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and did address clean air act regulations. 

"The clean air act has a huge impact on us, unquestionably," acknowledged Duke's Williams. 

However, McCrory's testimony concerned how the city could have lost funding due to clean air rules, not their impact on the company.

In a Charlotte Observer story at the time, McCrory said there was no conflict. "If you work for any company in Charlotte, you'd have a conflict," McCrory told the Observer. "This impacts everybody."

But in his testimony, the then-Mayor never disclosed his connection to Duke Energy. He didn't mentioned he was a Duke employee, at least as far as records produced by both his campaign and Citizens for Progress show. 

Brian Nick, a campaign consultant for McCrory, said there was no intention to cover up that fact. 

"The Charlotte Observer certainly knew about it," Nick said, adding that McCrory's private sector employment was no secret nor anything he tried to hide. 

It's also worth noting that McCrory testified before Congress on other topics as well. 

Although officials with the City of Charlotte could not immediately confirm the airplane flight, McCrory's own campaign acknowledged he flew home with other Duke Energy executives. The company says this would not have been unusual. 

"We have an office in Washington, so we have people there all the time," Williams said. It is not unusual for the jet to ferry executives between Washington and Charlotte.

It's worth noting that McCrory disclosed this airplane trip as part of a public record. 

Interpretation left to the viewer

On its surface, this ad appears to try to suggest McCrory was serving a private-sector master through his public role. The group behind the ad has a different spin. 

"This is more about non-disclosure," said Michael Weisel, a lawyer for N.C. Citizens for Progress. "If Pat McCrory had gone to Washington and said, 'I'm employed by Duke Energy,' there would be no issue."

Weisel said this ties into questions that Democrats are asking about McCrory's current job, where he works for a lobbying firm but has refused to detail his client list. It also dovetails with calls by the North Carolina Democratic Party for McCrory to release his tax returns, something he has so far refused to do. 

On McCrory's behalf, Nick said the ad merely shows how good of a mayor McCrory was. The trip to Washington, Nick said, was part of an effort to advocate on behalf of Charlotte and ensure the city didn't lose transportation funding.

"They still have not one shred of evidence of any kind that Pat (McCrory) used his position of power to benefit himself," Nick said.

So is the ad accurate? 

In terms of the events and facts cited, yes, the ad is accurate.

However, it is asking viewers to draw a conclusion that it didn't prove: that McCrory used his public office for the benefit of himself or his company. While it's fair to call attention to the connection, the ad fails to close the loop and prove any wrongdoing or ethical lapse. 

NC Citizens for Progress hammers away at McCrory

This is the second attack ad produced by Citizens for Progress about McCrory. The first one used the same tactics – factual claims, implied conclusions – to question McCrory's work on the board of Tree.com.


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