One of the most striking things about the latest scandal involving Governor Pat McCrory and his administration uncovered by the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer is that it has no partisan overtones at all.
Not one Democrat played a role in the stories about a meeting McCrory arranged between a donor, Graeme Keith, Sr., and officials in the Department of Public Safety about Keith’s multi-million dollar prison maintenance contract that was about to expire.
No allegedly liberal public interest group was making the connections between campaign donations and McCrory’s relationship with Keith and his insistence that his state contract be renewed.
It all came from McCrory’s own people.
A memo about the meeting prepared by McCrory’s Department of Public Safety that the News & Observer has posted on its website says that McCrory opened the meeting with a few remarks and then turned things over to Mr. Keith, who said he had been working on the private prison maintenance projects for more than ten years and “during that time had given a lot of money to candidates running for public office and now it was time for him to get something in return.”
Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry, a top McCrory appointee and a former FBI agent, told reporters that the memo was accurate and that Keith repeated the gist of the comments in another meeting and another phone conversation.
McCrory claims he didn’t hear Keith’s comments about his political contributions, that he was engaged in a side conversation. Apparently, McCrory remembers turning over the unusual meeting to his longtime friend and campaign donor and then not listening to what he was saying.
Keith clearly thought his contributions should help make sure his prison maintenance contract was extended, even though Secretary Perry and members of his staff questioned the savings that Perry was promising.
And Keith was right, judging by the extra efforts to justify extending the $3 million contract made by State Budget Director Lee Roberts and McCrory’s Chief of Staff Thomas Stith.
The media accounts also report that David Guice, director of state prisons, was at the meeting and raised ethical concerns about McCrory participating. Interestingly, the McCrory Administration did not allow Guice to be interviewed by the News & Observer.
The FBI is reportedly looking into the story so Guice will have to talk at some point.
The response to the pay-to-play saga has almost been as troubling as the revelations in it. McCrory issued a lengthy fact check after the story was published, complaining about the headlines and some of the facts in the story and that it was all done to “give the impression that something improper or even illegal was done.”
State Republican Party Chair Dallas Woodhouse called the story a “malicious attack piece” by the papers and said it was based on “biased information leaked by disgruntled former and current employees.”
That doesn’t make any sense as one of the “current employees” who is a key on the record source is the head of the Department of Public Safety, the man McCrory chose as a prominent cabinet secretary.
As for the impression that something illegal or improper was done, no one disagrees that a political donor said repeatedly, including once at a meeting where he was introduced by McCrory, that it was time for him to be rewarded for his campaign contributions.
This is also not a story that is based on anonymous sources. It is comes from public documents and statements from public officials currently in the administration.
The story includes a text message from Secretary Perry to Roberts and Stith after the decision was made to extend the maintenance contract.
Perry wrote “Very bad decision.” “Sorry, but this will soil our Gov.”
That’s not liberal bias or the media out to get anybody.
That’s a top official in the McCrory Administration telling the truth.
Chris Fitzsimon is the Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch.