Here’s the latest stink in Raleigh

Published 12:03 pm Monday, July 9, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in the Star-News of Wilmington.)
When those who want something from the N.C. General Assembly give money to legislators — for whatever purpose — that information should become instant public record.
It doesn’t now.
Unions, corporations, political action committees, lobbyists and individuals can give money secretly to legislators for supposedly noble purposes, such as scholarships. Even if that money never benefits legislators directly, they know it’s given to win friends who might do favors in return — if not today, then maybe next month or next year.
That’s subtle corruption.
Then there’s what some legislators did: solicit money for a charity they created, and give some of it to their own children or to children in their families.
That’s not subtle. That’s corruption.
Scholarships financed by secret contributors have gone to the families of five legislators: Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg; Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson; Earline Parmon, D-Winston-Salem; Larry Womble, D-Winston-Salem and Alma Adams, D-Greensboro.
All are members of the Legislative Black Caucus, which established a foundation to give scholarships to deserving students.
At first the foundation allowed colleges to award the scholarships. Then caucus members decided to take that heavy responsibility on themselves — and promptly started handing out money to their own families.
The dollars that went to the Womble’s son over three years might help explain how that Honorable, a retired educator, is able to drive a Ferrari.
Critics are calling for the foundation to reveal the names of all its contributors and what it did with their contributions.
Adams, the chairman, refuses. She apparently hopes to get away with halting fund raising and asking for an audit. Those are fine steps, but they continue to hide crucial information about what happened in the past.
Joe Sinsheimer, who keeps trying to lift his party’s reputation from the gutter, is denouncing ‘‘the hypocrisy of the House Democratic Caucus’’ and says he hopes ‘‘the relevant state and federal agencies will start an immediate investigation into possible violations of the law.’’
But House Speaker Joe Hackney, who many hoped would hose the stench off his fellow Democrats, has merely murmured cautious platitudes. He got a spokesman to say he’s pleased that the foundation will change the way it hands out its secret money.
As the speaker’s speaker primly put it, ‘‘In this era of heightened awareness about ethics, people are more mindful about, not only what is unethical, but what could appear to be unethical.’’
Only ‘‘appear,’’ you understand.
If Hackney wants to retain any credibility and to retrieve any ‘‘appearance’’ of integrity among some members of the Democratic majority, he and his colleagues will ban all secret contributions to themselves.
The question is simple: Will they be public servants or public parasites?