Local Politics

Perdue tightens up state ethics rules

Posted April 5, 2010 1:34 p.m. EDT
Updated April 5, 2010 7:00 p.m. EDT

— High-level state employees would have to wait longer to become lobbyists or go to work for companies they once regulated, under a set of ethics guidelines Gov. Beverly Perdue unveiled Monday.

Perdue also signed an executive order requiring people seeking an appointment to a state board or commission to disclose any criminal charges, tax difficulties, grievances filed against them and potential conflicts of interest.

The push comes as a top aide to former Gov. Mike Easley faces federal corruption charges and Easley continues to be investigated by a federal grand jury. In recent years, former House Speaker Jim Black, former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, former lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings and former state Rep. Thomas Wright have been convicted and sent to prison.

"I really don't like for people to feel like those of us who serve do not have ethical behavior. That's personally offensive," Perdue said. "The people of North Carolina should rightfully expect and deserve integrity from their public servants."

The "Good Government Legislative Package" that the governor wants state lawmakers to approve includes steps to limit the influence of contractors on state employees, such requiring former state employees to wait at least one year before lobbying agencies or working for companies that do business with their former agency.

Also, contractors wouldn't be able to provide political contributions to officeholders who oversee their contracts. That provision would affect members of the Council of State, such as prohibiting a state treasurer from accepting donations from investment firms that help manage the state pension funds.

The package also calls for any state worker convicted of a felony related to his or her position to forfeit his or her state pension and extends a ban on accepting gifts to all state employees.

Government reform advocates praised the moves.

"We don't care whether it's political factors that drive this. We don't care if it's a long-seated interest in government reform. All we care about is, when they take office, the people of North Carolina are the first thing on their mind," said Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education.

"I take this package as a wonderful step forward but with other steps to come. I think there's still more to do," said Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

Pinsky said she hopes the next step includes legislation for tougher campaign finance reporting.

State Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer quickly criticized Perdue's moves, noting her campaign has had questionable donations that have prompted a state probe.

"(The) press conference is another example of political double-talk from the governor," Fetzer said in a statement. "All of North Carolina would applaud her words, if they were only reinforced by her own actions."