Her friends at The N&O are STILL talking about those pesky private airplane flights from 2008 that SOMEHOW never made it onto her campaign report. Now, Carolina Journal’s indefatigable investigative reporter Don Carrington has found that Boss Bev’s official taxpayer-funded PR team may have violated federal law:
Since as early as January 2011, and perhaps before then, Gov. Bev Perdue’s press office has received access to confidential employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics hours if not days before its scheduled release, quite likely in violation of federal law. The governor’s staff used its early access to massage the monthly employment press release that reported jobs data to the public.
Documents and correspondence obtained byCarolina Journal show that the Division of Employment Security, formerly known as the Employment Security Commission, sent a draft of the press release each month to Perdue’s press office. The governor’s spokesmen typically rewrote the text and added a positive spin, even if the data did not support Perdue’s talking points.
The glowing quotes were attributed to Lynn Holmes, director of the employment agency, but the documents show the quotes were approved and probably written by a Perdue press aide, either Chrissy Pearson or Mark Johnson.
In several instances, DES spokesman Larry Parker cautioned Pearson or Johnson against using extraneous or unverifiable information in a release to boost Perdue’s image. At times, the Perdue communications team would push back, and the release would undergo several revisions before final publication.
While the operation may sound like a harmless effort to add political spin to the release of jobs data, sharing confidential BLS estimates while they are protected by an embargo violates a federal law barring the early release of employment data. This is no small matter: A conviction for breaching the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 carries a fine of up to $250,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
The data, including monthly estimates for current job totals, the labor force, and the unemployment rate, are produced by BLS with some minor assistance from the Labor Market Information Division of DES.
Former Gov. Mike Easley’s administration received an early briefing on the employment reports from ESC staff for several months in 2003 and 2004, if not longer, but those briefings apparently stopped after CJ learned of andreported on them in 2004.
Perdue and her staff may not receive formal briefings, but Parker told CJ in September that he shares the jobs report with Perdue’s staff roughly 24 hours before the announced time for the monthly release. Emails obtained by CJinvolving Parker, Pearson, Johnson, and in one instance Department of Commerce spokesman Tim Crowley, show officials discussing the data more than 48 hours before the embargo was lifted.
“BLS does not support the release of employment and unemployment data before the established dates and times,” said Janet Rankin, BLS regional commissioner for the southeast office in Atlanta in an email. She notes that states are required to publish the dates they will release employment data on Dec. 31 of the previous year and follow that schedule.
She added that state agencies enter a cooperative agreement with BLS to gain access to its confidential data, and that the agreements “state that estimates cannot be shared outside of the LMI unit until they are final and ready for publication. The data are embargoed until the state predetermined release date and time” (her emphasis).
When CJ reported on the briefings Easley received in 2004, Rankin said at the time: “A person associated with developing the data that is caught releasing it or commenting on it prematurely is subject to fines and jail time.”
CJ initially suspected Perdue was receiving employment information that was under embargo in August, when she discussed information in the jobs report at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Asheville the day before the data were released to the public. […]