Local Politics

Attention Turns to Lobbyist's Links to Black

Posted August 1, 2007 6:25 p.m. EDT
Updated August 1, 2007 11:57 p.m. EDT

— Lobbyist Don Beason was under fire Wednesday, a day after he was identified as the person who gave former House Speaker Jim Black $500,000 seven years ago.

Black and Beason, who routinely ranks among the most powerful lobbyists in Raleigh, both have said the $500,000 was a business loan for a failed real estate deal and went into Black's campaign fund by mistake.

Beason issued a statement Tuesday night in which he called the transaction "a serious error in judgment" that he regretted.

However, at least two of his clients, AT&T and Progress Energy, said Wednesday that they are reviewing the facts of the case and would take appropriate action.

Beason's Web site, which contained endorsements from Black, former House Speaker Dan Blue and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, was taken offline late Tuesday.

Basnight declined to talk about Beason on Wednesday.

The information about Beason's $500,000 check came to light in recent weeks as Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, was sentenced to prison on a federal public corruption charge and a state obstruction of justice charge. Black still awaits sentencing on a state bribery charge.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby grilled Black for more than an hour during a state sentencing hearing Tuesday to gain more information about money and influence in the General Assembly.

"We don't yet have all the answers to all the questions," Willoughby said after the hearing.

Black blithely described the flow of money between those who make laws and those trying to influence lawmakers.

"The whole thing goes round and round," he testified.

Some lawmakers said Wednesday they were incensed at being tarred by Black's brush.

"It's not common around here where people trade favors or legislation for cash. He just attempted to slime the entire (General) Assembly," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.

Ethics rules adopted in the wake of Black's fall from power have helped lawmaker start to put the corruption case behind them.

For example, Black raised more than $294,000 in the first half of 2005, according to campaign finance reports. Speaker Joe Hackney took in about $17,000 in the first six months of this year, reports show.

"We're trying to change the political culture here. There is some sense we've got to expose what has happened in the past so we can appreciate how bad things were and then now much change has taken place," said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a political watchdog group.

"I think we're turning the boat in the ocean, and it takes time," Hall said.