As Judge Donald Stephens correctly stated, former House Speaker Jim Black’s legacy is “an absolute defacing stain” on the North Carolina General Assembly. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby masterfully built and presented his case, making it obvious that Black broke the law, lied about it, and tried to cover his tracks with a lame story about the half-million-dollar attempt to influence him.
Here’s the part that is incomprehensible: Where is the outrage? Have we become so jaundiced that we believe all politicians and people in power are crooked and untruthful? Is unethical and corrupt conduct now expected and accepted?
Where is the outrage from our legislators? Do they fail to understand how all of them have been sullied by the actions of Black and others who’ve abused the public trust? Do they not know that their silence is screaming to the public that either they don’t believe anything wrong has been done or they don’t care about fixing the “defacing stain”? It would be reassuring to hear legislators—especially the leadership—telling us they’re appalled and are cleaning their own respective houses, and that clean, open government is not just desirable, it is an imperative.
Where is the outrage over Don Beason’s actions? Why aren’t we furious that a lobbyist made an unsecured, non-interest-bearing, unwritten “loan” to a speaker of the House while the Legislature was in session? Forget whether the action was illegal: It was unethical and smacked of influence peddling, the same pay-to-play mentality that Black had already admitted to. Why aren’t professional lobbyists adopting and enforcing more stringent ethical behavior within their ranks?
And where is the outrage from our news media? Shouldn’t the men and women who sit in the Capitol press room every day be incensed at what was going on under their very eyes? And why are Bob Hall (of Democracy North Carolina) and Joe Sinsheimer, neither of whom is employed by the news media, doing the investigative work that should fall to those who are paid to cover government? Why can’t political reporters cover government the way sportswriters cover professional athletes? There’s more outrage over Michael Vick’s alleged involvement with dogfights than there is over the corruption in our state government. Instead, The News & Observer did a puff piece on Beason, portraying the lobbyist more as a choirboy than as someone who’d dishonored his profession.
Where is the outrage over the money-laundering chain Black identified? According to him, big corporations give money to the Democratic National Committee, which in turn funnels these contributions to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. The DLCC then contributes to the North Carolina Democratic Party, which gives large, in-kind contributions to candidates. All this does an end run around campaign laws that prohibit corporations from contributing and limit contributions by individuals and political action committees to $4,000 per election.
Are we going to continue business as usual, or will something constructive come from this latest blow to good government in our state? We are ashamed, saddened, sick and, yes, outraged over what we know has happened. But we must also be emboldened, replacing our outrage with positive action. One place to begin is in the voting booth.
[Tom Campbell, a former assistant N.C. state treasurer, is the creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly, statewide television discussion of state issues that airs Sundays at 6 a.m. on WLOS-TV. He can be reached at www.ncspin.com]