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  1. #1
    Senior Member jp_48504's Avatar
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    Apr 2005

    Former Black aide guilty of violating lobbying laws

    Former Black aide guilty of violating lobbying laws
    Norris pleads no contest to improperly backing N.Y.-based lottery firm
    Meredith Norris
    Meredith Norris

    * 08/08: Black must forfeit contributions

    RALEIGH - Meredith Norris, a former political director for N.C. House Speaker Jim Black, was found guilty of violating the state's lobbying laws Friday, the second criminal conviction in two weeks against a political ally of Black.

    Norris, 32, pleaded no contest to lobbying for New York-based lottery company Scientific Games in 2005 without registering as a lobbyist, a misdemeanor. Her plea meant she does not admit guilt but accepts responsibility.

    "She is sorry if any of her actions have harmed anybody," said Thomas Walker, a Charlotte lawyer representing Norris.

    Black's office declined to comment.

    State and federal agencies are conducting investigations tied to Black and his office. The conviction of Norris, Black's closest political aide until last fall, suggests that the scrutiny is intensifying.

    Wake County District Judge Jennifer Knox found Norris guilty and sentenced her to one year of unsupervised probation, $700 in fines and fees and 75 hours of community service.

    The judge imposed a 45-day jail sentence that was immediately suspended. She also ordered that Norris testify for the state or federal government when called upon.

    Last week, former Rep. Michael Decker, a Forsyth County Republican, pleaded guilty to taking $50,000 from an unidentified Democrat to switch parties in 2003. His switch and vote helped keep Black and Democrats in power. Black has said he met with Decker but never promised or paid anything for Decker's vote.

    Norris did not address the court. Walker, Norris' attorney, said she maintains that she did not intentionally violate the law.

    "To say the least, this has been a very taxing, trying ordeal for her," Walker told the court. "She's ready to put this in the past. She's ready to close this chapter of her life."

    Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, who prosecuted the case, said the sentence was appropriate.

    Willoughby presented copies of e-mails that indicated Scientific Games was attempting to get lottery legislation favoring the company when it came time to award the contract to run the game. The state eventually awarded the contract to GTECH Holdings Corp.

    In one message, Norris tells Scientific Games lobbyist Alan Middleton that she will be meeting with Black and his legislative counsel, who was helping draft the lottery legislation, to talk about restrictions on lottery advertising.

    "I am not going to know exactly what to ask (legislative counsel) about that," Norris wrote, "so more than likely I am going to need to call you so you can speak with her directly. Is that OK?"

    The lottery bill that passed included language that Middleton proposed, but it was identical to language included in nearly every N.C. lottery bill proposed over the past 20 years.

    The e-mails also revealed more deliberate efforts by Norris to conceal her work for Scientific Games than previously disclosed. She lobbied for several other companies while also working as Black's unpaid political director. Norris has said her $5,000 a month contract was for work as a consultant to Scientific Games and that she did not need to register as a lobbyist.

    "Ms. Norris engaged in advocacy for Scientific Games and did things that are traditionally done by a lobbyist," Willoughby told the court.

    In a March 6, 2005, e-mail to Middleton, Norris proposed performing a number of duties for the company, including helping them:

    • Get lottery legislation passed that is "favorable to Scientific Games."

    • Assist in meetings between Scientific Games executives and legislators or the governor's staff.

    • Get legislation passed creating a lottery commission favorable to Scientific Games.

    Kevin Geddings, a lottery commissioner at the time, resigned last fall after Scientific Games began disclosing $229,000 in payments to him over five years for advertising and other work. He has since been indicted on fraud charges by a federal grand jury for failing to disclose the money from Scientific Games and charged by Willoughby's office with violating lobbying laws.

    "I think when my contract (with Scientific Games) is written, I will be listed as a consultant," Norris wrote in an e-mail to Julie Robinson, Black's communications director, "and therefore I will not be registering as a lobbyist until after the lottery passes and they are vying for the state contract as the lottery vendor."

    In another message to Middleton, Norris outlined a dinner plan with Republican legislators and said Middleton, not Norris, should register as a lobbyist.

    "I think right now it is far better to keep a direct connection (i.e. `me') between the Speaker and a hot-button issue like the lottery out of being a registered lobbyist," she wrote, "and just use me as your governmental affairs consultant at this point."

    Middleton also has been charged with violating the state's lobbying laws.

    "These (lobbying) laws are passed so there is transparency," Willoughby said, "so the public knows who is trying to influence legislators."

    From the Court File

    E-mails from Meredith Norris, former political director for N.C. House Speaker Jim Black, detailed her lobbying efforts on behalf of Scientific Games, even though she was not registered as a lobbyist.

    • "I feel very strongly that I can be a real asset to Scientific Games in terms of my connections and good rapport with the Members of both parties. I would very much like to work on your behalf." -- e-mail to Scientific Games lobbyist Alan Middleton, March 6, 2005

    • "I just tell you (about work for Scientific Games) as a FYI and not to share with anyone. So, as far as anyone knows, I am not the lobbyist for Scientific Games, though I may be in the future." -- e-mail to Julie Robinson, Black's communications director, March 21, 2005

    • "Let's take a group of Republicans out to dinner next Wednesday night. I'm thinking that you should register as a lobbyist prior to that time." -- e-mail to Middleton, April 1, 2005

    • "With the (lottery) vote expected this fast, I haven't set up dinners for this week. The Speaker wasn't sure if you all needed to spend $$$$ at this point and said it was up to you. What do you think? You da boss!" -- e-mail to Middleton, April 4, 2005

    • "At 9:30 EST, I am meeting with the Speaker and the staff attorney who has been composing the language for the lottery legislation." -- e-mail to Middleton, April 5, 2005


    Geddings, a former Charlottean and N.C. lottery commissioner, and his wife are seeking a fresh start in Florida, where he appears on their radio station. SEE STORY, PAGE 1B ... 257562.htm
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  2. #2
    Senior Member jp_48504's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005

    Black must forfeit $6,800 in contributions

    Posted on Tue, Aug. 08, 2006
    Black must forfeit $6,800 in contributions

    RALEIGH - A Wake County judge dealt N.C. House Speaker Jim Black a legal setback Monday -- and Republicans sought to hand him a political one.

    Superior Court Judge James Spencer Jr. ruled that Black must forfeit $6,800 in contributions from optometrists, agreeing with the state elections board that Black and his campaign violated state law by exceeding contribution limits.

    Hours earlier, Republicans rolled out the first campaign ad highlighting scandals tied to the 71-year-old Matthews Democrat -- and promised more to come.

    The actions came nearly a week after former Republican Rep. Mike Decker of Forsyth County pleaded guilty to taking $50,000 from an unidentified Democrat to switch parties in 2003, a move that kept Black and Democrats in power. Decker faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Monday's court ruling intensified the legal woes facing Black. Decker's admission grew out of a grand jury probe that has engulfed others tied to Black and left Democrats fearing more indictments. The case Monday centered on checks Black and the N.C. Optometric Society collected from individual optometrists who left the "payee" line blank.

    After deciding which candidates should get the money, Black and at least one other member of the society filled in names.

    They argued that the check writers entrusted them to decide who received the money, which they contend is legal.

    "I am surprised and disappointed by the Superior Court's ruling," Black said in a statement. "My campaign has always reported all contributions that I have received and I have always operated within the law. Election law experts have (said) the optometrists did nothing wrong, but the State Board of Elections and the Wake County Superior Court have a different opinion."

    The ruling gave Republicans more ammunition.

    "It is obvious that money overpowers ethics or morality when it comes to Speaker Jim Black," N.C. GOP Chairman Ferrell Blount said. "This is not how our state government should be run. We need ethical and open elected officials, and Jim Black's actions have tainted the public's view of our General Assembly."

    In late 2002, Black and Decker met in Salisbury where, according to Decker, a deal was made for his vote. Prosecutors say Decker later got $50,000 from an unnamed House Democrat he initially met with in Salisbury. Black denies promising or paying Decker money to switch parties.

    On Monday, Sen. Andrew Brock, a Davie County Republican, turned Black's troubles into a campaign commercial.

    He released copies of an ad full of newspaper headlines about scandals tied to Black. He acknowledged he can afford only sparse cable broadcasts, but is trying to raise money to air it statewide. He said it may be the first case of a Republican tying Democratic opponents to Black's troubles.

    "Not only can you hang him around their necks," Brock said at a news conference, "but he's got his hands in their pockets."

    Black, as is typical of a party leader, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic House members over the years.

    Brock called on Democratic candidates who have ever received that money to give it to charity. "It's dirty money," he said. "It's radioactive."

    Democrats headed into the year with Republican President Bush's poll ratings sinking, a congressional lobbying scandal that mostly tainted Republicans, and no statewide federal race for the GOP to rally around. Now, they could be on the defensive.

    "It certainly prevents (Democratic chairman) Jerry Meek from trying to tie the troubles in Washington to whether the N.C. legislature should be Republican or Democrat," said Bill Peaslee, chief of staff for the state Republican Party.

    "We know that Republicans are going to make this a big issue this fall," Meek said, "because they have nothing else to run on. ... You don't like to have bad press, so it hasn't been good for the party. What we have to do is remain focused on what we accomplished in the last session."

    In the case of the "blank" checks, the state elections board ruled in the spring that Black, an optometrist, should have reported the checks as contributions to his campaign. He received $4,000 -- the maximum -- from the optometric society political action committee in the 2002 primary and general election.

    During the primary, Black also received $3,800 in checks given to the PAC by optometrists with the payee line left blank.

    Black's name was filled in later. He got another $3,000 in such checks during the general election.

    The elections board ruled that those filled-in checks counted as contributions from the optometric society. That meant the group exceeded the maximum contribution limits by $6,800, and Black accepted that much in excess of the limit. Judge Spencer agreed.

    A Black aide said the speaker hasn't decided whether to appeal the ruling.

    State Board of Elections Chair Larry Leake said he is pleased with the decision. The General Assembly last month voted to ban the use of such checks.

    One Republican at Brock's Raleigh news conference was Charlotte City Council member Andy Dulin.

    He said he would help Brock raise money in Charlotte to give the ad a wider airing.

    "I just said, `For goodness sake, something's got to be done about this,' " Dulin said, referring to the scandals.
    Mark Johnson: 919-834-8471

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