RALEIGH — One of the most fascinating news conferences that I ever attended came during the tenure of former Democratic state House Speaker Jim Black.
Black was defending legislation to legalize video poker, trying to make the point that the industry created jobs. My predecessor in this columnist gig, Paul O’Connor, had a simple question for the House speaker: How about prostitution?
“It’s jobs too,” O’Connor said.
He wasn’t serious about legalizing prostitution. O’Connor was trying to make the point that plenty of other morally questionable and currently illegal behavior could generate jobs too, if that were the only criteria that lawmakers need consider.
Black’s response was really no response. My recollection is that he kept repeating something along the lines of, “That’s ridiculous.”
Maybe. Then again, maybe we missed a more pertinent question that day.
That question: Is there anyone from whom you would not take a campaign contribution? How about a pimp or a drug dealer?
The same question apparently needs to be asked today, as a big chunk of North Carolina’s current political class seems to have missed the lessons learned by Black, in a federal courtroom and a federal prison.
It was Black’s ties to the video poker industry that first caused the FBI to look his way.
Now, it is political giving by that industry, in its current video sweepstakes guise, that is causing current lawmakers some problems.
It seems that the head of a sweepstakes technology company, Chase Burns, was the biggest individual donor to North Carolina legislative candidates in the last election cycle.
Campaign watchdog group Democracy North Carolina has traced $235,000 in donations from Burns to state politicians and campaigns.
Burns contributed to politicians of both political parties, but not surprisingly gave more to the party in power. Besides individual candidate donations, the state Republican Party and its legislative caucuses received $55,000. Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign took in $8,000.
Sixty-three current legislators received money from him.
Unfortunately for Burns, some Florida law enforcement officials recently paid a visit. He is now charged with racketeering and money laundering in connection with his company’s activities involving video sweepstakes in that state.
In recent days, the same investigation has led to the resignation of that state’s lieutenant governor and more than 50 other arrests.
In response to the scandal, McCrory and some legislators have announced that they will give the contributions to charity.
Apparently, they were shocked, shocked to find that gambling and other illegal activities may have been undertaken by a video sweepstakes company.
They might also be shocked to find that this kind of money and illegal activity, coupled together, have a way of attracting the attention of people who wear badges and have offices in federal buildings.
That street corner gambling parlors still operate in some counties despite laws and court rulings that say they are illegal may bring more attention to the situation.
It takes no genius to figure that out.
It only requires a little reading of recent state history.
Capitol Press Association