Timeline of the Chase Burns/Paul Foley debacle

Jerry over at Watauga Watch is keeping an eye on this story:

April 19, 2013: Democracy North Carolina files a formal complaint about the Burns contributions with the SBOE, which at that time still has three Democrats and two Republicans sitting on the board. Democracy North Carolina wants to know if the contributions were made using corporate, rather than personal, funds, and was someone other than the contributor directing who received the money?

April 25, 2013: A majority on the SBOE agree that an investigation of Burns is warranted and is therefore set in motion.

April 26, 2013: Newly elected Gov. Pat McCrory replaces every board member on the SBOE to reflect the results of the 2012 elections: three new Republican members and two new Democratic members. Paul Foley is one of the Republicans appointed. The Burns investigation is already underway.

This is actually in the middle of the timeline, but it's a critical juncture: It's the point where it becomes obvious that Governor McCrory is not only watching, but he's also starting to sweat the outcome, and decides to take some action. And Foley's subsequent and apparently obsessive interest in the investigation strongly suggests the "why" he was chosen for the new board:

September 2014: SBOE staffers, looking through documents from the Florida investigation, discover that Burns has paid Foley’s law firm nearly $1.3 million between 2009 and March 2013, when Burns was arrested and his accounts frozen (including the account used to send the half-million to the North Carolina politicians).

September 29, 2014: Foley recuses himself from the Burns investigation (but not actually). He continues to press Strach and SBOE investigative staffers for details and updates.

As you'll notice, there's a gaping hole in the timeline, some 17 months, to be exact. But in reality, it was a lot longer than that. We should have learned of Foley's behavior in October, when the Attorney General's office was asked to investigate. But nothing was revealed to the media until a few weeks ago. And that is unacceptable.

In case you're wondering why I'm so upset about this particular story, it because BlueNC was the first media entity to expose Chase Burns' attempts to influence NC politicians. When I stumbled across that massive donation to the NC GOP, dropped into their war chest a few days before the 2012 Election, and realized what that money was for (promoting illegal gambling), I thought for sure some corrective actions would be taken quickly. Heads would roll. I was mistaken. And in the years that have followed, this casual disregard for blatant corruption has severely shaken my confidence in both our morality and institutions. It's made me more cynical, something I do not consider a healthy attribute. These are the fruits of an apathetic and ethically-challenged political realm, which is one more very good reason to change it.



On ethics and intent

I'm going to post the AG investigator's conclusion in this comment, and the major flaw in that conclusion in another comment. See if you can spot said flaw while I take a break for a few minutes:

In summary, it is my conclusion that the investigation of Bob Hall’s complaint concerning Chase Burns and IIT was not improperly influenced by the actions of any members of the State Board of Elections. While Board Member Paul Foley’s many questions over an extended period of time may have suggested to staff that the investigation should be completed more quickly, and while he also appears to have requested, after he recused himself from the
matter, that he receive an advance copy of any report, I find no evidence that any staff member was actually influenced by this interactions. To the contrary, the evidence indicates that staff members continued to the conduct the investigation in accordance with their professional judgment, just as they would any other investigation. Finally, it is my conclusion that given
Foley’s interactions with staff about the investigation, and given that his law
firm received payments for legal services, it was appropriate for Foley to recuse himself from any matters involving Burns or IIT that might come before the State Board.

The flaw:

Not unlike the question, "If a tree falls in the woods, and there's nobody there to witness it, does it make any noise?"

Just because the BoE's staff doesn't appear to have been influenced, it doesn't mean Foley did not exert undue influence on an investigative body.

Our preoccupation with the "results" of criminal or unethical behavior by politicians or political appointees has twisted our understanding of the the very ethics we would seek to enhance. It should not matter if Foley succeeded or not, his attempts by themselves constitute a violation; an effort to undermine a potentially criminal investigation.

Results matter, but so does behavior, and the intent behind such behavior.

Conflict of interest is an ethical breach

At the beginning of every SBOE meeting, the Chair, Josh Howard, reads a required statement asking if any board member has a conflict of interest and if so, to state it immediately. Mr. Howard has probably read that statement a dozen times, and Mr. Foley has kept silent a dozen times. This is a huge ethical breach, and should be examined by the State Ethics Board and the NC Bar.

Agree wholeheartedly

But I'm afraid the worst that would happen is a censure from either or both of those entities, and maybe Foley being pressured to resign from the Board.

The real issue (as far as I'm concerned) is the connection between Chase Burns, Pat McCrory, and Tom Sevier, a former colleague of McCrory's at Moore & van Allen who was Chase Burns' money man here in North Carolina. The whole setup stinks, but nobody seems to care.

Foley resigning

would be a great start. It will be interesting to see what the SBOE investigation concludes.