In the years leading up to 2012, pseudo-legal video sweepstakes parlors were popping up across North Carolina, Pat McCrory’s campaign was getting into gear and Thom Tillis and Phil Berger were seeking to preserve their roles as House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore.
Gambling industry players, mired in court cases and needing the protection of North Carolina law, felt like the political environment was finally conducive to them being able to legalize the industry in the state. Industry operatives and their lobbyists began to meet with McCrory, Tillis and Berger, and, following those meetings, dumping huge sums of money into their respective campaigns.
Some of this is outlined in a State Board of Elections investigative report that concluded last month, but elections watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, which filed the original complaint, says the investigation was flawed or incomplete in many ways, and needs further scrutiny. Democracy NC director Bob Hall identified five reasons why a new probe should be initiated, outlined in a letter delivered Thursday to US Attorney Thomas Walker and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.
“We need to have another independent investigation done in an objective, comprehensive way,” Hall said at a press conference Thursday morning. “There could have been some violations of state law and some of federal law.”
The July report describes lobbyists with two firms organizing several events between sweepstakes industry representatives and North Carolina candidates, but it doesn’t investigate whether candidates who received money from sweepstakes industry donors made a commitment to pursuing legalization of video gambling—whether they accepted a bribe, in other words.
On February 23, 2012 for example, McCrory met with sweepstakes representative Gardner Payne and industry lobbyist Harry Kaplan from the McGuireWoods firm. Then on March 3, $34,000 in checks from sweepstakes donors arrived in McCrory’s campaign account. If some kind of deal was made at the February meeting, Hall says, it’s a violation of federal campaign laws, whether McCrory followed up on his end of the bargain or not.
Together McCrory, Tillis and Berger received more than $250,000 for their 2012 campaigns from sweepstakes donors, who poured more than $600,000 into North Carolina overall (Tillis, who got the most, actually started receiving money from the industry in 2011).
The report found that Tommy Sevier, a lobbyist with the Moore and Van Allen firm, admitted to violating a state law prohibiting a lobbyist from delivering a bundle of different donations from different donors to a candidate. Sevier, personally or by mail, delivered several donations from sweepstakes software provider and industry leader Chase Burns’ trust fund to North Carolina legislators like Berger, and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton. Though Sevier admitted to this, no action was taken against him by the Board of Elections since there is not a specific penalty tied to illegal bundling of campaign contributions; Democracy NC is calling on Sevier to be prosecuted. (McCrory also worked at the Moore and Van Allen firm during his run for Governor, though not as an attorney).
Democracy NC says the Board of Elections report was obstructed by Paul Foley, a Winston-Salem attorney appointed to the Board of Elections by McCrory, whose law firm Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton LLP represented Chase Burns’ corporation, International Internet Technologies (Burns, from Oklahoma, has been indicted in Florida for racketeering; he and his cohorts were major donors).
Foley, who has since resigned, never recused himself from the elections board’s investigation and allegedly ran interference on behalf of his gambling industry clients.
“During the investigation, [Foley] pushed the board’s staff for information about who was being interviewed and other details,” Democracy NC states in a press release. “When the staff later learned that Foley’s law firm had been paid over a million dollars by Burns’ company, Foley recused himself, but he continued to pressure staff for information.”
Also at issue is whether Burns’ $270,000 in donations to North Carolina candidates were personal as he claimed (and as the State Board of Elections affirmed), or whether it came from his corporation, IIT, illegally. The Moore and Van Allen law/lobbying firm directed donations to lawmakers and candidates from IIT, which, as a political strategy, would appear to be a business transaction (though Burns shuffled that money through his personal account).
Finally, there is the question of whether illegal gambling proceeds paid out of Burns’ personal account had been laundered; Burns’ Florida indictment describes how his trust fund account was used to launder money, largely through property acquisitions and sales. Donating laundered money to political campaigns is, of course, illegal.
The following charts detail how much McCrory, Berger and Tillis received from sweepstakes donors in 2011 and 2012. Video sweepstakes gambling continues to be illegal in North Carolina.
McGuireWoods executive Harry Kaplan, and his client, sweepstakes operator Gardner Payne, met with McCrory February 23, 2012. Here are the donations from sweepstakes industry people and McGuireWoods clients following that meeting:
Support independent local journalism.
Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.