#ncga: Drivebys Tee-Up the Steinburg Invitational

The Elizabeth City Daily Advance has decided to wake up from its Rip Van Winklish slumber and call Bob Steinburg’s taxpayer-funded basketball deal what it is:

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, says he didn’t break any laws or ethics rules when his new sports marketing company signed a $50,000 contract with Currituck County last year to facilitate the county’s sponsorship of a college basketball tournament in Asheville this fall.

While that may be so, it doesn’t mean the lawmaker should have sought a taxpayer-funded contract from a county he represents in the Legislature, or that Currituck officials should have given it to him.

Regardless of Steinburg’s claim that the sponsorship agreement is worth a “million dollars” in promotional advertising for Currituck, or county officials’ description of the tournament as a “good marketing effort,” the contract is an example of government at its worst. It is the poster child for why citizens distrust government at all levels and believe it only works for insiders.

First of all, Currituck spends millions of dollars a year on tourism promotion, but it had never spent a dime on sponsoring a sports tournament until Steinburg showed up last year with the idea it pay to sponsor the “Battle in the Blue Ridge” NCAA tournament in Asheville. Steinburg also just happened to have a way to “help” Currituck sponsor the tournament: he owns a sports marketing company, the WolfeStein Group, that he formed with a partner in early 2017.

According to Steinburg, the firm is paid to set up basketball tournaments and find sponsors for them. Steinburg actually approached Currituck about sponsoring a basketball tournament in 2016 — before he formed WolfStein. 


Another important point: Steinburg admitted in his pitch to Asheville that this tournament was his rookie venture. His FIRST time. Did Currituck officials seriously think it was a good idea to grant no-bid taxpayer money to someone who has no experience in doing what they’re asking him to do?  (Could I go to Currituck, call myself a basketball tournament promoter, and get paid too?)


[…] Some have questioned the value of Currituck spending tourism promotion dollars in another tourism-rich region — Asheville — or on trying to draw tourists from another beach community — Wilmington — to Currituck. But the unknown tourism return on Currituck’s investment of $50,000 in a basketball tournament isn’t what’s troubling here. What is troubling is Steinburg’s decision to mix his private business interests with his public ones.[…]

Yeah.  Like using his actual legislative offices in Raleigh to conduct WolfeStein business.


[…] Don’t get us wrong: Steinburg has every right to make a living. As a part-time lawmaker, his annual salary is a paltry $14,000 a year. His right to make a private living, however, shouldn’t include seeking contracts from those who depend on him in his public role. After all, Currituck needs Steinburg’s legislative help — and will continue to need his help as long as he’s in the Legislature — on any number of matters. It’s hard to continue to say no to someone’s business interests when you depend on them for public business.

How did he get money for an Asheville event that is clearly required, in county regulations, to be spent IN Currituck county? Also, HOW did he get such a sweet deal (HALF of what the Southern Conference got)  on renting the city-owned Asheville arena that is to host the Steinburg Invitational?


[…] Steinburg has rejected the suggestion of any quid pro quo or “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” arrangement with Currituck, saying everything about his deal with the county was “above board.”[…]

Previous media reports indicate a state ethics official could not recall discussing the tourney with Steinburg.  Also, Steinburg has yet to produce any kind of documentation confirming an ethics approval of the deal.  I’d want it in writing, if I were him.


[…] While there’s no evidence to the contrary, it is odd that not all seven commissioners were apprised of the WolfeStein contract until after the fact. Even though commissioners’ approval for the deal wasn’t required, it’s strange that not all of them were told about it. Indeed, a majority of commissioners have said, since finding out about the contract, that they would have opposed it had they known about it at the time.

They apparently understand what Steinburg and two or three of their peers who did have prior knowledge do not: There is strong public revulsion to government officials seeking personal business deals with other government agencies over which they exercise some control. The potential for coercion, even if it’s not overt, is too great.

Self-described conservatives like Steinburg talk a lot about spending less on government and reducing its size. It’s interesting, though, that it’s government that they turn to when it’s their own personal interests that need promoting.[…] 

Don’t lump him in with us.  He’s part of the problem we rail against.


[…] It’s perhaps no accident that the upcoming tournament Steinburg is promoting does not carry the naming rights for a company in his district. That would have required getting private enterprise to take a chance on investing in his fledgling company. Why do that when it’s much easier to tap public funding sources like the millions Currituck collects every year in occupancy tax revenue and is required by state law to spend on tourism promotion?

It’s also much easier when your BFF is the incumbent chairman of the county board of commissioners.


This is one tourism promotion — and expense — that Currituck could have and should have done without. As for Steinburg being allowed to earn a living: He certainly does. But co-mingling official public responsibilities with a business relationship is sure to leave a sour and lasting taste in the public’s mouth.