Cream isn’t the only thing that apparently rises to the top; in North Carolina political corruption does as well.
On July 13th, the North Carolina Republican Legislature’s effort to codify voter suppression went on trial in federal court in Winston-Salem, Carolina. Before the trial began, Reverend William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, led between 3,5000-6,000 people in a peaceful protest, part of an ongoing series of protests known as “Moral Monday”. Rev. Barber called the case “our Selma” because the voter ID law and its related provisions, passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, have severely limited the right to vote for most minority voters and, in some instances, disenfranchised them.
In what can only be described as a moment of true serendipity the Associated Press also broke a story about the efforts of Paul Foley a private attorney for the North Carolina Republican Party and member of the North Carolina Board of Elections, efforts to disenfranchise Democratic voters in North Carolina.
Relationship not disclosed for seventeen months
The story of Paul Foley’s duplicitous nature actually began almost immediately after his appointment to the State Board of Elections. According to various media outlets, including the Charlotte News & Observer, Winston-Salem Journal and the Greensboro News & Record, shortly after Foley was appointed, he helped oversee an investigation into campaign donations made by Internet sweepstakes businessmen Chase Burns and wife. Mr. Burns and his wife made contributions of approximately $235,000 to various N.C. elected officials, including the Governor, House and Senate leaders. These contributions were all made to aid in the lobbying effort to legalize online sweepstakes gaming. Unfortunately, throughout the 17 months Mr. Foley helped oversee the investigation in to Mr. and Mrs. Burns’ contributions, he failed to mention to the Board of Elections that his law firm was paid $1.27 million by Mr. Burns and his company for legal services. Though in an extremely interesting twist, it was recently revealed by the Winston-Salem Journal that Governor Pat McCrory’s chief legal counsel, Bob Stephens, was aware of Mr. Foley’s conflict for over a year and also said nothing.
The Charlotte Observer reports that Foley “expressed strong interest in the Burns case,” and asked questions, “making it clear he thought it should be finished as quickly as possible.” Seventeen months later after the investigation began, board of elections staff members discovered that Foley’s law firm represented Mr. Burns. It was only after Mr. Foley’s conflict came to light, that he said he would recuse himself from the case. However, despite his alleged recusal, Mr. Foley continued to press the staff of the Board of Elections for information regarding the investigation into Mr. Burns’ political contributions. In fact, according to an article in The Charlotte Observer, Mr. Foley went so far as to suggest he be permitted to see the staff’s report before it became public so he could alert his law firm.
Mr. Foley made a statement on at the beginning of a state Board of Elections meeting that “At the time the law firm received the significant legal fees from IIT [Mr. Burns’ software company], I was an employee, not a partner, at the law firm. I never attempted to, and had no reason to, attempt to influence the direction or outcome of the investigation.” Mr. Foley’s dubious statement becomes even more suspicious given that Mr. Foley worked closely with at least two of the attorneys from his law firm who worked on the team for Mr. Burns. In fact, one such attorney, Richard Dietz, was described by Mr. Foley as his “best friend.” Mr. Dietz left the law firm in 2014 following an appointment by Governor McCrory to the Court of Appeals.
It should also be noted that in addition to Mr. Foley’s firm doing work for Mr. Burns’ company, Paul Foley’s wife’s firm also received payments totaling $28,000 for legal fees. While there is no indication that Mr. Foley’s wife worked with Mr. Burns, it certainly raises some questions.
While the attorney general’s office conducted an investigation and decided that Mr. Foley did not improperly influence the investigation into Mr. Burns, the office left it to other agencies to determine whether Mr. Foley was truthful in his other statements.
Voter suppression efforts proven
On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, the Associated Press, after reviewing hundreds of e-mails, reported that, in 2014, Paul Foley worked closely with the two Republican members of the Watauga County elections board to eliminate a voting site of the campus Appalachian State University. This voting site was the only site in Watagua count to vote Democratic in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and the 2012 governor’s rate.
In August, 2014 the state board unanimously voted to eliminate the voting site. Mr. Foley, again, failed to disclose to the state board his involvement with the plan to eliminate the site.
A lawsuit contesting the elimination of the voting site was brought in Wake County Superior Court by a group of Democratic voters in Watagua County. The Wake County Superior Court judge ordered that the Appalachian State University site be restored, and the board approved the reinstatement on October 24, 2014. However, in another interesting twist, the NORTH Carolina Supreme Court allowed the lawsuit to be reviewed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals; the same North Carolina Court of Appeals where “best friend” to Paul Foley, Richard Dietz was appointed by the Governor just three months earlier. The case is currently before the N.C. Court of Appeals.
Foley refuses governor’s request that he resign but later resigns
Following what can only be described as an Alexander level terrible, horrible, no good, very bad few days for Paul Foley Governor McCrory made two separate request for Foley to from the North Carolina Board of Elections. Foley, apparently not interested in falling on his sword for McCrory rebuffed both of the Governor’s calls for his resignation. Mr. Foley released a statement that he did “not believe it is appropriate for the governor to ask a member of an independent board with on-going oversight authority over him to resign.”
Later McCrory told media outlets he would take steps to have Foley removed, citing a North Carolina General Statute which allows the governor to remove “any member of a board, council or committee from office for misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance.” McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis told the Associated Press Foley’s potential conflict of interest with the Burns investigation wasn’t disclosed to the governor. A damning accusation considering the Governor’s own chief counsel was aware of said conflict for over a year. However, the clock struck midnight on Wednesday, , however, Foley sent in his resignation.
A Culture of Corruption in North Carolina
Whether the further investigation into Paul Foley’s apparent conflict of interests in both the Chase Burns investigation and the elimination of the Appalachian State voting site will show that his actions were guided by Governor McCrory, or an attempt by Mr. Foley to curry further favor with the Governor, remains to be seen. What is clear is that for Governor McCrory, it certainly pays to keep your friends close.
The one saving grace for Governor McCrory, at least for the next 17 months, is that the North Carolina Constitution contains no known provisions allowing for a recall. Until then, McCrory will need to depend on his friends in the North Carolina Legislature and Judicial systems to disenfranchise enough voters to ensure a victory in 2016.
Photo: Fox 8 News