Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Beason says he'll quit lobbying

Top-ranked lobbyist Don Beason – losing clients because of revelations in state court that he had loaned former House Speaker Jim Black $500,000 in 2000 – says he’s getting out of the lobbying business.
In a brief phone conversation Wednesday, Beason said he had informed the office of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall that he would no longer be a registered lobbyist. “It’s not fair to my clients to put them through something like this,” Beason said.
It wasn’t a question whether he could still be an effective lobbyist, Beason said. “I don’t know and will never know” because he would no longer lobby for any clients.
It’s a dramatic turn of events for a well-connected lobbyist who had a lot to do with the fact that the state’s new lobbying law now applies to executive branch lobbying and not just to lobbying in the legislature. Beason had pushed for that in 2005 after he was a member of Marshall’s Advisory Council on Legislative Lobbying. The council did not call for restrictions on executive branch lobbying, but the law ultimately included it.
In late fall of 2005, I had a call from Beason, a Republican who had worked in the Holshouser and Martin administrations and who moved easily among both Democrats and Republicans. He was a top-ranked lobbyist in the biennial rankings put out by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research and a thoughtful guy on how things worked in Raleigh.
It was early December, and Beason had just written all 170 legislators that he planned to begin abiding by the new law right away – including sending in monthly reports about what he spent, and from then on declining to give legislators gifts such as tickets, meals and trips. He called to let me know about the letter.
I thought it was an interesting unilateral announcement. What I didn’t know – what only he and then-Speaker Jim Black and maybe a limited number of other people knew – was that nearly five years earlier, Beason had temporarily loaned, at no interest, a half a million bucks to Speaker Black. Twice.
That was the infamous $500,000 loan that, Black said in state court the other day, was a business loan that was accidentally deposited in his campaign account, then repaid to Beason, then reloaned to Black for his personal account, then deposited in his campaign account to make it look bigger than it was, and then finally repaid to Beason when the real estate deal fell through.
Beason declined to discuss that loan. He has told associates that he thought it was a business loan, and soon realized it had been stupid to make the loan after he read in the newspaper that Black had loaned his campaign $500,000.
Here’s a short I wrote for the Saturday editorial page, Dec. 17, 2005, based on Beason’s letter:
Had I known about the $500,000 loan, of course, it would have been worded quite a bit differently.
“Lobbyist to lawmakers: It’s time to comply with new law
“Don Beason, a veteran legislative lobbyist considered one of the most effective in Raleigh, says he won’t wait until 2007 to abide by a new lobbyist regulation law to take effect then.
“He wrote all 170 legislators last week that he plans to send monthly reports to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office disclosing what he spends to lobby on behalf of clients while the General Assembly is in session. The new law requires lobbyists to disclose any spending over $10 on lawmakers in regular reports for the first time.
“Mr. Beason, a Republican whose clients include large banks and utilities, also said he will now abide by the new law’s ‘no gifts’ registry, under which legislators can declare they will accept no gifts of meals, tickets, trips or anything else from lobbyists. He also urged legislators to adopt a key reform recommended by the N.C. Professional Lobbyists Association: no gifts, period.
“That letter may rattle teacups and decanters all over town.
“Mr. Beason is pointing in the right direction. If legislators want to dispel the notion that they’re a grubby group on the take for favors great and small, nothing – absolutely nothing – would be more effective than to impose an outright ban on gifts, entertainment, meals and even campaign contributions from lobbyists.”


Clayj said...

The cynic in me wonders if this move isn't less about not being able to lobby effectively for his clients and more about protecting himself from any criminal investigation concerning his $500,000 "loan" to Jim Black. The phrase "enterprise corruption" springs to mind when I think about this "loan"... Beason effectively facilitated Black's criminal wrongdoing, and he must have known that something shady was going on. After all, Beason's not a bank, is he? And the money he lent to Black was never reported to the IRS, was it?

David McKnight said...

You know, folks in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County as well as their neighbors in other counties ought to decide one issue for themselves: do your representatives in the North Carolina General Assembly, who earn a part-time salary for their public service, lose their right to engage in commercial business affairs related to their professional or business occupations in Mecklenburg or surrounding counties while they are members of the Legislature?

Is it to be expected that someone elected to the N.C. House of Representatives or the N.C. Senate from Mecklenburg County is to suspend all professional and/or business acticity until such time as they resign their seats in the General Assembly, choose not to run for re-election or fail of re-election in attempting to do so?

Here in Raleigh and Wake County, everybody from the area hotel and restaurant business communities to the Wake County public schools (to whom Judge Stephens has erroneously allocated the entire off-the-chart $1 million fine levied against Dr. Jim Black) is sharing in the commercial and governmental funds generated by all categories of state government operations and activities.

Therefore, not only back in Mecklenburg County but also in such surrounding counties as Gaston, Union, Lincoln, Cabarrus, Iredell and Rowan, you need to ask yourselves: are your state legislators expected to cease all non-political activities related to the earning of a livelihood while they are serving their fellow citizens in Raleigh?

Then, after you resolve that question, you can decide what parameters of financing of commercial, business and professional activities are to be deemed ethically permissible for state legislators trying to make do on part-time wages for their service in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Sorry about the long-winded speech, but people have a right to know if they are to be able to provide for themselves and their families while engaging in part-time, partially volunteer public service callings.

And it would help things considerably if The Observer were to participate editorially in the debate and evaluation of these issues and questions.

Clayj said...

David, good questions.

Using Jim Black as an example, when he was elected to the Legislature, he should have automatically recused himself from any legislation, decisions, or even conversations concerning his chosen trade, specifically ophthalmology. Black's law requiring kids to have eye checkups was as blatantly self-serving as anything I've ever seen.

But on a larger scale, the phrase "public service" has meaning. It's not "private service"... if you want that, don't run for office. When you serve the public*, you are expected to put some of your own interests aside for as long as you hold office. This is something that all politicians need to remember.

* Politicians also need to remember that "public service" doesn't mean that the public serves you... you serve the public.

David McKnight said...

Could I raise this question? Does anyone else remember taking eye exams during grade school? What about now, with Dr. Black not serving in the General Assembly--do parents want the N.C. public schools to provide eye exams or do they wish for these exams to be conducted through private family medical arrangements?

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