Just another day in the NC GOP's casino royale:
A North Carolina nonprofit with deep political connections received $5 million in the state budget for a beach nourishment study and design project, even though it has never done that type of work and is headquartered more than 250 miles from the coast. Lawmakers appropriated the funding to the Resource Institute, based in Winston-Salem, through a one-time “grant-in-aid” – pass-through money – from the state Division of Water Resources.
Since 2016, board members and principals of the Institute, as well as several of its contractors, have contributed $84,000 to House and Senate leadership and Republican lawmakers key to their interests, including Rep. Kyle Hall and Sen. Bill Rabon, according to campaign finance records.
Okay, aside from the stench of corruption and patronage associated with this, it also exposes another Legislative vs. Executive Branch power struggle. That $5 million might have been earmarked, but it also shows up on the bottom line of funding to DEQ. In other words, when GOP lawmakers are (rightfully) criticized for not properly funding the environmental department, and they grab a base number to dispute that, this will be included in that self-righteous rebuttal. The ugly truth is, Republicans in the Legislature *have* to co-opt Executive agencies to enrich their friends, because their branch really doesn't do much of anything in the form of actual "work" for the people of North Carolina. Call it "Purse Strings vs. Apron Strings," if you want a handy provincial illustration, but that manipulation of funding is a prime example of the GOP's irresponsible approach to doing the people's business. And of course, like many of these other sweet deals, there's a former lawmaker having a great time with the revolving door:
Former State Rep. Bryan Holloway, who represented Stokes and Rockingham counties from 2004 to 2015, is the registered lobbyist for the Resource Institute. He did not return emails seeking comment.
Hall replaced Holloway in the House. He sits on the Appropriations Committee and the Joint Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources – the group that will receive Resource Institute’s beach re-nourishment report. And of the four counties Rabon represents, three of them are along the coast: Brunswick, Pender and part of New Hanover.
The timing of the campaign contributions is also notable. Westmoreland founded and incorporated Atlantic Reef Maker in May 2016, according to Secretary of State records. That’s when the campaign contributions started pouring in: from Anderson, Resource Institute board chairman Michael “Squeak” Smith, Westmoreland, and his wife, Stephanie, who also is president of North State Environmental.
According to campaign finance records, none of these contributors had donated to state lawmakers or candidates before.
Oh, I'm sure it's just a coincidence. Not.