The 2011 Statements of Economic Interest (SEIs) for North Carolina legislators are now available on the Civitas Institute’s website, Carolina Transparency. According to the North Carolina Commission on Ethics, “The State Government Ethics Act requires the disclosure of financial and personal interests” by state legislators and other covered persons. All SEIs are public records and may be requested by the public.
The Statements of Economic Interest are a powerful tool for the public to determine potential conflicts of interest between a legislator’s duty in the General Assembly and their personal financial interests. The form gives a profile of each legislator’s financial interests including: sources of income, real estate owned in North Carolina, ownership of public and private companies, involvement in non-profits, investments, and liabilities. Income from Social Security, federal and military retirement, and capital gains are all excluded from the form. The SEIs include information not just on each legislator, but also data on all family members residing in their household.
The forms do not include member’s total income or net worth. Interests are only reported if they are above a certain threshold, but the total amount of each interest is not listed. For example, a legislator is required to report all sources of household income greater than $5,000, but not the total amount of income from each source. For stocks, legislators must disclose the name of any company in which they own over $10,000 in stock.
Using the database of SEIs will allow citizens to find potential conflicts of interest. Some of the things we found interesting include: Rep. Dewey Hill (D-Columbus) rents property to the North Carolina Division of Forestry for a Forestry Museum. Rep. Garland Pierce (D-Scotland) is on the board of a non-profit community action group that provides weatherization services, an activity that was heavily subsidized by the Stimulus Act through the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Rep. Larry Brown’s (R-Forsyth) wife is the Executive Director of the Richmond County Partnership for Children, a participant in Smart Start. Rep. Jerry Dockham (R-Davidson) reports owning substantial stock in both Duke Energy and Progress Energy which are currently engaged in a high profile merger that is attracting attention from both state and federal regulators. While we are not alleging any impropriety in these relationships, it is important for an engaged citizenry to be aware of their legislators’ personal interests when evaluating their political positions and voting records.
Several legislators’ Statements of Economic Interest seemed to be missing required data. Many did not list their General Assembly salary in the income disclosure section while several listed no disclosable income at all. In the cases of Rep. Glen Bradley (R-Franklin), Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg), and Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenburg), no income was disclosed despite the fact they included either business associations or employment for themselves or their household members elsewhere on the form. The State Ethics Commission notes, “Failing to list current employer as a source of income on #10, the “income” question” as one of the seven most common SEI errors. Rep. Cotham also discloses a mortgage liability but lists no North Carolina real estate.
President Andrew Jackson stated in his farewell address that, “eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government.” The Statements of Economic Interest released by Carolina Transparency are an important means to allow the citizens of North Carolina to be watchful of our legislature. This project will allow any member of the public to easily access the financial interests of their legislator without making a request through the Commission on Ethics. While we all hope that the members of the General Assembly are behaving in an ethical and honest manner, this data provides citizens with an important tool to ensure they are doing so.