Stay focused people

Pundits in power continue to lose track of what matters most in Strach-gate: the fundamental conflict of interest of a high-powered investigator for the State Board of Elections being married to the general counsel of the North Carolina GOP. Despite what the N&O might say, this is not about Richard Moore. In fact, the only writer I've seen who has managed to get the story straight is Scott Mooneyham of the Insider (which, ironically, is also owned by the News and Observer). Unfortunately, you have to pay a couple thousand dollars to get an Insider subscription, so no links today, just a short excerpt.

Now, her husband was state GOP general counsel. The state GOP had brought the complaint against the Perdue campaign. As Andrew Whalen, executive director of the state Democratic Party recently noted, Phil Strach may have helped compose the complaint that his wife was now examining to determine its merits. Wallace wrote that Kim Strach had an unavoidable conflict of interest.

She replied that her work history - including an investigation that led to fines against the Republican Governors Association - made clear that she done her job without bias.

::

This muddled mere might have been avoided had state GOP officials and Phil Strach recognized that, given his wife's unique position, becoming party lawyer probably wasn't such a swell idea.

As one person wrote to me, "The most bizarre thing is the editorial opinion from two large N.C. newspapers that Kim Strach doesn’t have a conflict because of her outstanding job in the past. WTF? Job performance doesn’t have anything to do with conflict. These guys are lab rats performing tricks and waiting for their next treats from Kim."

I love that last expression. Lab rats.

The State Board of Elections is a quasi-judicial political institution, controlled by whatever party is in power, and abused by whatever party is out of power to further their own political goals. It is compromised in every sense of the word, regardless of who's in charge. I'd say it's time to shut the misguided experiment down.

Comments

Leakegate not Strachgate

Ok, let's go with your assumption that there is an appearance of a conflict with Kim Strach's husband previously being legal counsel for the NC GOP. So one argument is that the Board and the executive director of the Board will both supervise and review Strach's work to make sure it is thorough, accurate and complete. If it's not they have several choices one of which is to have another person conduct the research who does not have an appearance of a conflict. However, since everyone hired at the BOE probably has some political connection, it would appear that such a standard would effectively subject all of the employees and Board members from participating in making decisions about political campaign activity. You shouldn't have a rule that says an employee can't have the appearance of a conflict but the Board which is comprised of political appointees doesn't have to abide by the same standards even though the Board has the ultimate decision authority. Finally, let Mr. Ambrose come forward and answer the press's questions - the ones Kim Strach didn't get to ask. Then we can perhaps determine if the rush to get this report over as ordered by Chairman Leake was meritorious.

Fetzer gate

The Board is responsible for Strach's work. The top dog there can do whatever he wants to an employee's report ... although it is usually ill-advised, as it was in this instance.

But none of that has anything to do with the conflict of interest that Strach had ... and still has in my view. There is not the "appearance" of a conflict, there is a clear and fundamental conflict that anyone with a grain of sense should be able to recognize.

Feel free to focus on the gate you're interested in, I'll stay focused on the one involving Tom Fetzer and Phil Strach. Fetzer is like Art Pope, happily pushing the limits of the law to get away with whatever he can. He hired the husband, using the wife as a pawn in his plans. In the instant hiring that happened, Kim Strach should have been given the choice of resigning, being reassigned, or being terminated for cause, in this case the "cause" being a conflict of interest.

conflicts of interest

Ok, let's do a BlueNC poll. Who has the biggest actual conflict? (1) a Board of Elections employee whose husband was previously a lawyer for the NC GOP? (2) the Chairman of the Board of Elections who was appointed and has financially supported the campaigns of the governors (Easley and Perdue) who are being investigated for campaign violations? or (3) the Executive Director of the Board of Elections who was previously a party officeholder with the NC Democratic Party? I vote #2 has the biggest conflict.

Conflict of interest answer

All BOE board members are appointed because of party affiliation -- as the law directs.

Conflicts of interest due to spousal relationship are also outlined in rules and laws.

The BOE board members did not violate the law due to party affiliation. In fact, they are fulfilling the requirement of the law by being appointees of the Democratic or Republican party.

The Strachs violated conflict of interest guidelines.

It's pretty damn clear.

I don't want Kim Strach being the arbiter of who violated what campaign finance matter, when she can't see her own glaring conflict of interest.

She was being paid by the taxpayers to find conflicts of interest (among other things) about others in the campaign finance arena while having a blatant one herself.

If we want to have a discussion about abandoning spousal or familial relationships as a basis for conflicts of interest, then let's have it.

Otherwise, it's past time for these foolish Strach apologists to admit that this couple engaged in a mind-numbing conflict of interest.

 

conflicts of interest

Your reasoning is totally inconsistent with logic. The Board consists of political appointees some or all of whom have contributed to the very campaigns they are investigating. Regardless of whether the statutes call for the Board to be politically appointed or not - that is still either a perceived conflict or an actual conflict. If your reasoning is that - sure it's a conflict but the law says it's ok, so it must be ok - then there is a double standard in saying Kim Strach is disqualified from her work because of her marital relationship. A conflict exists if there is some reason to believe that the individual cannot or will not fairly perform the duties assigned. What is there other than who Kim Strach is married to that would indicate her ability to perform the duties assigned her by the Executive Director was compromised? Apparently no one on the Board thought there was a problem and I'm sure they all knew who she was married to.

The design of the board

...was to match ambition for ambition. It was designed to have political appointees sitting on it to aid in keeping each side in check. Each major party gets at least 2 of the 5 members.

It's not merely "OK" for the board members to be political appointees. It's required. It was the intention that they be so, so that neither side could claim to be shut out of the process.

The employees of the board were not designed to be political hacks with a spouse as general counsel to a party.

See the difference?

 

There you go

confusing the situation with facts about the law instead of opinions about the facts.

Board Employees

No political hacks...uh, where did the Executive Director, Mr. Bartlett, come from? Shall we check all the other employees to see who they knew that were influential democrats when they applied for a job with the BOE. Give me a break. While I'm sure most of the employees try to keep personal politics out of their job, it's totally unrealistic to think that the BOE controlled by one party for almost 20 years and charged with regulating political campaigns has been hiring people in a neutral fashion. Just like Governor Perdue never - well maybe a little - helped Colonel Glover along in his career.

Since you can't get Leake, now you want Bartlett

Strach was married to the GOP's general counsel.

Leake was not married to a party's general counsel.

Bartlett was not married to a party's general counsel.

Who's next? Mickey Mouse?

Mickey Mouse was not married to Phil Strach either. Kim was.

 

Muddy

No one is "apologizing" for Strach. Strach hasn't done anything wrong.

No one has even said that she did anything wrong.

No one has cited a misstatement of fact, a distorted presentation, a bias in tone or conclusion.

No one.

Nor has anyone -- apparently -- asked Strach whether her husband and she conferred about the investigation.

Nor has anyone -- apparently -- asked Phil Strach what, if any, his role was in drafting the complaint or advising Fetzer or anyone else within the GOP about the investigation. Or at least no one has reported having asked.

These seem like obvious questions to me, but I'm beginning to realize that some assumptions are just so cozy and comfortable that challenging them in any meaningful sense is like urging a committed couch potato to go for a bike ride during the Oprah Winfrey show.

So far, no one on this blog who is claiming that she had a conflict has demonstrated any curiosity about the fact that Whalen and Wallace raised no objections about Strach's being "conflicted" until the point in the investigation where she asked to see a notebook that Wallace didn't want to share. Those claiming righteous insistence upon "transparency" ignore the fact that Whalen and Wallace knew of her marriage and raised no objection until that apparently sensitive point in the investigation.

Even Mooneyham himself, who broke the story, seems to write off the troubling issues as "muddied," as if raising a question is the same as answering it.

This isn't about Whalen or

This isn't about Whalen or Wallace or asking the Strachs about what they did or didn't confer about.

This is about a fundamental and clear conflict of interest that I raised as an issue back in the spring. My concern didn't arise because of what others thought or because I have evidence that she did anything wrong. My concern arose because I don't think a senior investigator at the State Board of Elections should be married to the legal counsel for a political party. Period.

You don't agree, fine. This just happens to be one of those rare times when you're wrong and I'm right.

Wrong again

I don't think that Whalen or Wallace should ask the Strachs anything. They don't have a forum for doing that, and neither do you. Journalists do, however. I do think that Scott ought to inquire, since he's the journalist who made the point. I think other journalists should inquire. But they probably won't, and so it goes.

But no, there is no clear and fundamental conflict of interest. The assumption to the contrary is so backward and antiquated thinking that no one leapt to it until Wallace got nervous about where Strach was headed -- though, again, both Wallace and Whalen knew of her marriage at the outset and raised no objection. Guess that conflict wasn't very clear and fundamental from their point of view, huh? As for your leaping to the assumption, you tend to leap a lot, so that's not particularly significant.

It's laughable that you cling so tightly to this assertion without having interest in exploring whether it is validated in any way by evidence. Even Chris Fitzsimon used the fact of Strach's marriage to say that it BOLSTERED the credibility of the report (back when he was using the Board's memo to interpret it).

Of course, that's what made it a win-win for the Board. If her report exonerated Perdue, everyone says, "See, and it's all the more credible because Kim is married to Phil Strach. If her report did not exonerate Perdue, everyone can say, "well, you see, she was obviously conflicted."

It's a cheap and easy way to avoid looking at what the report says, reading the timeline that accompanies it, reading the difference between what was originally submitted and then edited out, and questioning, as Anita Earle has, why Strach was being hamstrung.

Not that it'll change your

Not that it'll change your already-made-up mind, but I've read everything you've suggested I read ... and a lot more. (That's why I have come to the conclusion that the Board shouldn't exist in the first place.)

But to point of this post, the question as to whether Strach was hamstrung or was doing a good job or whatever is irrelevant: she should not have been in the position in the first place. You and Steve Harrison exchanged views on this issue a while back, with you arguing that a potential conflict is not problematic when everyone understands who's married to whom and no one objects. You claim that no one objected to this unseemly situation. You're wrong about that. I objected the moment I discovered it.

You are certainly free to say "well who gives a shit whether you objected or not?" and your question would be valid. You're also welcome to point out that others, including yourself, didn't have a problem with the obvious conflict, including my friend Chris Fitzsimon. I've considered those other perspectives and don't find them convincing. I had a problem with the conflict, and still do.

It matters all right.

You didn't object until after Whalen and Wallace, so, no, I'm not convinced you would have done so independently. But it's a silly objection and dates back to a time and place long since passed. It is also unrealistic in today's job world and economy to expect that people who are married cannnot take jobs that could potentially conflict with their spouses'. For that matter, Phil Strach resigned his position within the party when Kim was assigned the case. The marriage issue is just so much smoke, and there's not a reporter who has covered it who doesn't know that.

And all those questions about the report and the Board matter a great deal to those of us who want to see public servants perform their jobs.

Wrong

I had no knowledge of the correspondence involving the Strachs when I raised this issue back in early April. I discovered the Strach connections in the spring after coming across this discussion of his role at the NCGOP. Maybe everybody else in Raleigh already knew about the conflict, but I didn't. I'm not an insider.

Did you see this?

The payroll with benefits makes up over 1/2 of the budget. Thank God the Pope family paid for the building.

I'm not sure you should be thanking anybody, much less God.

Since you didn't quite answer

Again -
1) it's a silly objection and dates back to a time and place long since passed.
2) It is unrealistic in today's job world and economy to expect that people who are married cannnot take jobs that could potentially conflict with their spouses'.
3)Phil Strach resigned his position within the party when Kim was assigned the case, so what is the conflict now? Past employment?
4) The marriage issue is just so much smoke, and there's not a reporter who has covered it who doesn't know that.

and finally,

4) And all those questions about the report and the Board matter a great deal to those of us who want to see public servants perform their jobs.

To just make the assertion that a conflict exists, with nothing to substantiate the concern is a little odd.

Kim Strach

§ 138A‑36. Public servant participation in official actions.
(a) Except as permitted by subsection (d) of this section and under G.S. 138A‑38, no public servant acting in that capacity, authorized to perform an official action requiring the exercise of discretion, shall participate in an official action by the employing entity if the public servant knows the public servant or a person with which the public servant is associated may incur a reasonably foreseeable financial benefit from the matter under consideration, which financial benefit would impair the public servant's independence of judgment or from which it could reasonably be inferred that the financial benefit would influence the public servant's participation in the official action.
(b) A public servant described in subsection (a) of this section shall abstain from taking any verbal or written action in furtherance of the official action. The public servant shall submit in writing to the employing entity the reasons for the abstention. When the employing entity is a board, the abstention shall be recorded in the employing entity's minutes.
(c) A public servant shall take appropriate steps, under the particular circumstances and considering the type of proceeding involved, to remove himself or herself to the extent necessary, to protect the public interest and comply with this Chapter, from any proceeding in which the public servant's impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to the public servant's familial, personal, or financial relationship with a participant in the proceeding. A participant includes (i) an owner, shareholder, partner, member or manager of a limited liability company, employee, agent, officer, or director of a business, organization, or group involved in the proceeding, or (ii) an organization or group that has petitioned for rule making or has some specific, unique, and substantial interest in the proceeding. Proceedings include quasi‑judicial proceedings and quasi‑legislative proceedings. A personal relationship includes one in a leadership or policy‑making position in a business, organization, or group.
(d) If a public servant is uncertain about whether the relationship described in subsection (c) of this section justifies removing the public servant from the proceeding under subsection (c) of this section, the public servant shall disclose the relationship to the individual presiding over the proceeding and seek appropriate guidance. The presiding officer, in consultation with legal counsel if necessary, shall then determine the extent to which the public servant will be permitted to participate. If the affected public servant is the individual presiding, then the vice‑chair or any other substitute presiding officer shall make the determination. A good‑faith determination under this subsection of the allowable degree of participation by a public servant is presumptively valid and only subject to review under G.S. 138A‑12 upon a clear and convincing showing of mistake, fraud, abuse of discretion, or willful disregard of this Chapter.
(e) This section shall not allow participation in an official action prohibited by G.S. 14‑234. (2006‑201, s. 1; 2007‑347, s. 12; 2007‑348, s. 42; 2008‑213, s. 84(a).)

FairPlay

Kim Strach

Kim did not have to remove herself from her position, because Phil Strach removed himself from his. He resigned his position with the NC Republican party when she was assigned (she was ASSIGNED) the investigation. If the SBOE thought she was not up to the task, the SBOE could have NOT ASSIGNED her to it. But they knew her. They knew her work and her integrity.

Likewise, Kim Strach has a mind of her own, is not, by virtue of her marriage, going to abandon her responsibilities or ethics. And she didn't.

And what is also remarkable, or ought to be if you're paying attention, is that no one has suggested that anything in her report was biased, slanted, or even questionable. The facts either are supported by evidence or they aren't. No one has offered so much as a slivver of evidence that anything in her report was suspect.

Instead, this smoke and mirrors game has commenced, and the reason it has commenced has nothing to do with genuine concern about whether or not the investigation was fair, but rather it has commenced to distract from those concerns.

That's what is so disturbing about how this issue has been treated.

What on earth was John Wallace afraid of? What was the worst? What was so intimidating to Perdue's people? I think it should be interesting to anyone who cares about state governnment and how it functions that neither Whalen nor Wallace had any problems with her role until she asked for access to something they didn't want to give her. Frankly, I don't understand why people who claim to be "progressive" are not concerned about that.

Why not let her finish her work and interview who she thought should be interviewed?

If her marriage were truly an issue, why on earth did the State Board of Elections not say so at the onset, and why on earth didn't John Wallace say so at the outset?

I don't think they did because they knew they could maneuver the narrative. If she exonerated Perdue, no one could question her credibility. If she did not exonerate Perdue, her credibility must be questioned.

It's my understanding that he removed himself in May

I can't find verification of that.

According to the correspondence, Ms. Strach was well into her investigation in February.

The statute is pretty clear on this. Very clear actually.

The Statute

The statute was and is clear to the attorneys (and there are at least two) who work for the State Board of Elections, the Board with the Democrat majority that assigned Kim Strach to investigate.

What you keep missing is that the statute requires that a potential conflict be acknowledged, and that it be raised as a question. The statute does not say that the fact that a question exists obviates the interest in pursuing an answer. In other words, NO, the mere fact of your marriage to someone who may be involved in a potential conflict does not in and of itself mean that you cannot perform your job.

It's mind-boggling that you think that the Democrat Majority on the State Board of Elections and the Democrat controlled Department of Justice (the attorneys) were just snoozing somewhere when the matter of investigating gubanatorial candidates, including a sitting governor, first arose.

You don't want answers. You just want the question to be the end of the issue. What's worse is that you are so wedded to the dream of this all simply disappearing because Kim Strach is married to Phil Strach, you refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of any concerns about how the investigation was managed and concluded.

What the majority of the Board did or didn't do

doesn't mean jack shit to me. If I ever started taking my my cues from their judgment or lack thereof I'd have to shoot myself.

More to the point:

you refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of any concerns about how the investigation was managed and concluded.

That's just total bullshit. I've acknowledged those concerns many times ... to the point of concluding that the institution itself is not salvageable.

Unlike you, however, I'm able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It is possible for two fundamental problems to be present at the same time, and even be related, without one of them having to magically disappear because you don't want to acknowledge its existence.

Said another way, just because the sky is blue doesn't mean the grass isn't green. Kim Strach had a conflict of interest AND the Board is a dysfunctional institution of marginal competence.

when you have collected yourself

and can offer a rational response, I'll be glad to answer. But this last on your part was just another of those petulant tantrums that you are by this time well known for throwing.

It's your forum. If you really think my comments are that uninformed or thoughtless, I'm glad to withdraw from offering anything furher.

Despite my history of tantrums

... if I thought your comments were uninformed or thoughtless, I would have said so. I don't think that at all. I just disagree with your assessment of this situation.

You have nothing but an emotional reaction

you have not answered a single point raised in response to the questions your challenge posed. How responsive -- or responsible -- is that?

You care about a specific

You care about a specific dimension of Strach-gate that isn't important to me right now. That said, I appreciate that it's important to you and would never try to dissuade you from getting to the bottom of whatever you think happened. But just to be clear, my challenge didn't pose the questions you're focused on, you posed those questions. Unless, of course, "you" and "my challenge" have mysteriously become one and the same thing.

Just skidding. You know I love ya.