Two Charlotte media organizations, the Charlotte Observer and WBTV, ran stories last week about a legislator who appears to have made stealth changes to legislation that would possibly benefit some of his contributors. On December 17th, the Charlotte Observer ran a story about Rep. David Lewis, (R-Harnett) making last-minute changes to a technical corrections bill that appeared to protect a state contract of a campaign contributor.
On the same day, WBTV reported about another occasion where Lewis appeared to make changes to another bill to aid a different campaign contributor who also happens to have a state printing contract.
“At issue in the latest round of scrutiny are changes made to House Bill 38, part of which sought to drastically reduce the number of agencies required to receive printed copies of appellate court decisions.
“State law requires more than 1,000 copies of appellate division reports be distributed to more than three dozen agencies and groups of government officials — including judges, clerks of court, and numerous law libraries.”
In this case, the contributor who was helped is Owen Andrews. Andrews owns Capital Marketing Solutions, the company that holds an Administrative Office of the Courts printing contract. According to WBTV, that five-year contract is worth about $2.1 million to Andrews.
While these recent stories illustrate the behind the scenes way some things get done by some elected officials in the state legislature, the WBTV story got my attention not because of what or how Lewis did it, but because of the contributor who Lewis appears to be helping.
I wrote a blog about Owen Andrews way back in 2010 when the Democrats controlled the legislature and the governor’s mansion. According to my blog;
“The News and Observer and the Charlotte Observer have concentrated on the fact that Printelect prints the majority of ballots used in every election in NC (86 out of 100 counties) and that they charge considerably more than other printers. They have also pointed out that Printelect is the sole agent for Election Systems and Software (ES&S). ES&S is the only certified election equipment vendor in NC.
Some more facts mentioned in their articles: “Printelect is a subsidiary of Owen G. Dunn Company in New Bern. The company’s president, Owen Andrews, is a long-time friend of Governor Perdue and Gary Bartlett, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections.” Bartlett shared an especially close relationship with Andrews, even going on ocean fishing trips on Andrews’s boat.”
I went on to write in my blog that the media had not mentioned the fact that Printelect programs the voting machines for North Carolina counties. “So it will not only sell the voting equipment to all 100 counties, and print ballots for 86 counties and provide equipment maintenance services, but also program the equipment to record the votes cast.”
And nothing much has changed in the world of elections when it comes to printing ballots and buying and selling voting machines. Owen Andrews’ Printelect is still the solitary agent/vendor for ES&S in North Carolina. So you now understand why I am interested in the fact that Andrews has resurfaced again as a friend and contributor to powerful people in state government — powerful people who can help him with his state contracts.
Moreover there is one more thing to add to the WBTV Rep. David Lewis story that so far has not been mentioned. Rep. Lewis has been Chairman of the House Elections Committee for the past five years.
And, when it comes to campaign contributions, Andrews definitely knows where his bread is buttered. Except for contributions to former state legislator Republican Jean Preston, who was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting Systems, Andrews had never contributed to a Republican until September 2, 2011 when he contributed $250 to the Committee to Elect Thom Tillis. Tillis became Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2011 after the Republicans had won a majority in both legislative houses for the first time in history. In September of 2011, Tillis had just completed his first session as Speaker of the State House.
Since 2011, Andrews has mostly given to Republicans, with few exceptions. The most notable are two $500 contributions (one in 2014 and the other in 2015) to Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running for governor against Pat McCrory in 2016. Andrews has contributed $9,000 to Governor McCrory’s Campaign since February 2012. He gave no money to McCrory in his first run for governor in 2008. Andrews had previously donated $16,250 to former Perdue’s campaign. The gubernatorial contributions are important because the governor appoints the members of the State Board of Elections (SBOE) and the SBOE makes the ultimate decision on voting machine vendors, etc. for the state.
Since 2000 Andrews has given Democrat candidates and committees a total of $64,787.80. To Republican candidates and committees the total from Andrews is $30,750. The totals for both sides is a drop in the bucket compared to the money he has made off of state contracts.
In the case of the Democrats’ relationship with Andrews, we knew Perdue and Bartlett not only knew him, but were friendly. We can’t conclude this is the case of the “new” leadership, but an appearance of quid pro quo, especially when it comes to elections, can be just as serious as the real thing.
It’s time to re-evaluate our voting equipment. The legislature has passed legislation requiring every county have some sort voting equipment that will produce paper ballots and many counties are getting ready to buy all new equipment. This would be a major windfall for Andrews. Let’s erase any advantage that Andrews has and get some competition in this state.