#NCGA: The tug-of-war over the SBI

SBI_logo01e71cbe-8208-46e3-90da-ed4fd33824c9A move is afoot on Jones Street to consolidate state law enforcement in the executive branch.  In many states, you have one centralized state police force.  In North Carolina, it seems every statewide elected official — except the lieutenant governor — has lawmen under their command.  (Even the insurance commissioner AND the secretary of state.) 

Currently, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) is under the purview of the state attorney general — currently Democrat Roy Cooper.  Cooper is calling efforts in the GOP-led legislature to strip him of control of the SBI as pure partisan politics.  THIS comes from a guy who started running for governor shortly after being sworn in for a new term as AG in 2012. 

A lot of folks have seen the SBI — for some time — as a political police force doing the bidding of attorneys general, who have been Democrats.  It is my understanding that Pat McCrory’s GOP predecessor, Jim Martin, traded the standard gubernatorial security team of SBI agents for a crew of state troopers, out of political concerns.  One can rightly imagine a GOP governor being concerned about employees of a Democrat political rival keeping tabs on him all day.  

I talked with a friend of mine — a seasoned lawman whose career included a stint with the SBI — for his take on this belief that the SBI is a political police force:

“If the attorney general wants something handled or overlooked, the powers-that-be in the SBI honor those wishes. It could be a favor for a political ally, or retaliation against a political rival. Politics is a huge factor inside that organization.”

I’ll never forget one of my bigger scoops during my tenure with the drive-by media: an exposé of a senior aide to then-Gov. Jim Hunt shaking down state employees for campaign contributions.  The day after the story broke, I went to the Raleigh offices of the state Board of Elections to do some additional research.  While I was there, two SBI agents came in.  They flashed their badges and demanded access to former Gov. Martin’s campaign files.  *A coincidence — I’m Sure.*

legislatureBack to the proposal to move the SBI.  The media and the Democrats suggested that the bid to move the SBI was part of an attempt to quash corruption probes of Republicans.  It’s as though the SBI is the last line of defense for the integrity of our state government.

To reinforce that spin, we get a story about how the SBI is probing campaign contributions to state legislators from a federally-convicted sweepstakes proprietor.  The only named recipients in media reports are REPUBLICAN Pat McCrory, REPUBLICAN Phil Berger, and REPUBLICAN Thom Tillis.  The problem?  First, the guy who donated the money didn’t get what he wanted from the legislators.  Second, EVERYBODY — in both parties — got SOME money from this guy.   So, this sweepstakes operator — who got busted for something that happened outside North Carolina — dumped a bunch of money on North Carolina politicians who ended up giving him NOTHING in return.  This guy wasted his own money.  But I don’t see the crime.

I won’t begrudge the drivebys for outright lying and regurgitating the spin of Democrat campaign flacks.  It’s expected.   The only real drawback to the story is that it illustrates the seedy reality that there is a perception you need to PAY in order to get something passed in the North Carolina General Assembly.