The NC Rural Center saga continues to unfold, as the Governor’s office has frozen state funding for the troubled organization. Moreover, Rural Center Board Chair Valeria Lee is refusing to step down after McCrory called for her to do so. Amazingly, Lee is also pledging to honor the nearly quarter million dollar severance fund for long-time president Billy Ray Hall, who resigned yesterday.
It is also being alleged that leadership at the Center had been actively trying to delay the release of the scathing state audit report until after a state budget had been passed, in hopes of receiving millions more in taxpayer dollars.
Actively lobbying the legislature for more taxpayer dollars appears to be nothing new for Rural Center leadership, however. According to the group’s 990 tax form, in 2010-11 the group spent $31,957 on “payments made to an organization contracted to influence legislation on behalf of the Rural Economic Development Center, Inc.” (see page 18 of the document, part 2B, line 1 (i), with explanation in part IV, ‘supplemental information’).
Not so coincidentally, a look at the Secretary of State principle expenses reports for lobbyists in 2010 shows four members of the Rural Center receiving compensation for lobbying efforts. Among the four: Billy Ray Hall, who received nearly $5,000 for his lobbying efforts. Presumably, this compensation is in addition to his Rural Center compensation package that year of about $285,000. rural center lobbyist expenses (see pg 24 of document)
In short, the Center spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on lobbying efforts in an attempt to maximize the taxpayer dollars they would receive in the state budget.
As this controversy unfolds, I am reminded of an article I wrote about Golden LEAF, in which I connected many crony dots. Unsurprisingly, Billy Ray Hall and Valeria Lee were in the middle of that, as there was a direct link between Golden LEAF and the Rural Center:
Billy Ray Hall currently sits on the Golden LEAF board, and previously held a seat on the board from 1999 to 2003. Hall has also been president of the NC Rural Economic Development Center since its inception in 1987. Similarly, Valeria Lee served as president of Golden LEAF from its inception in 1999 until late 2008. Lee also was an incorporating member of the Rural Center’s board, and has served on its board ever since.
Golden LEAF has granted more than $6 million to the Rural Center for various programs in the last decade
Its pretty amazing how a small group of unelected, but well-connected political cronies can be in control of so many millions of taxpayer dollars.