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Request Filed for Ethical Investigation on NC House Speaker

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In a notice sent to various state-level officials over the weekend, former NC House Rep. John Rhodes has requested that the North Carolina House Ethics Committee, Attorney General, and State Board of Elections conduct investigations into whether NC House Speaker Thom Tillis has engaged in ethics violations.

The request maintains that Speaker Tillis, now a Republican candidate for US Senate, may have abused his powers of office by advocating that several substantial donors to his campaign be appointed to positions on the UNC Board of Governors. Rhodes cites apublished letter in which the Speaker defended his endorsement of Doyle Parrish, a Democrat, by stating, “he is directly responsible for more than $100,000.00 in financial support through personal contributions to my campaign committee and other candidates and through the Hospitality Alliance.”

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Doyle Parrish islisted as the Assistant Treasurer of Grow NC Strong, a pro-Tillis for Senate super PAC that was formed two months after the UNC Board appointments were made. Parrish and two other UNC Board appointees, George Sywassink and W.G. Champion Mitchell, each gave personal or businesscontributions of $20,000+ to Grow NC Strong on 06/28/2013, raising questions over whether their endorsements from the Speaker were made with future contributions in mind.

“Legislators need to understand that the people’s legislature is not their personal political ATM for campaign cash at the time of their choosing,” Rhodes told reporters during a press conference he held on Friday to explain his upcoming ethics complaint.

Another of the Speaker’s endorsements came under scrutiny recently when a publishedcitizen letter alleged that Eastern NC radio show host Henry Hinton’s appointment to the Board of Governors may have served as repayment for years of radio advocacy, which the author equates to free campaign promotion.

Hinton calls the letter an absurd attack. “I have never asked any elected official for anything for personal gain including my election to the (Board of Governors),” says Hinton, who also notes that the Speaker does not have direct appointment authority over the UNC Board positions. “Like all the other nominees I appeared before the Republican House caucus and was interviewed for the job.  I received the second highest vote total of more than 12 candidates nominated. … I was asked to be considered a nominee for that board and was very gratified the House elected me. Once again no good deed goes unpunished.” Hinton iscurrently listed as one of five regional team leaders for the Thom Tillis for US Senate campaign.

In a letter sent to the North Carolina Attorney General on Saturday requesting further investigation, John Rhodes states, “The people of North Carolina deserve the right to know if their House of Representatives is in fact ‘up for sale to the highest bidder’ regarding appointments … how much money was involved surrounding these appointments, the timing of when the money changed hands in relationship to any substative (sic) legislation that was passed, through which political conduit the money was passed, and if any laws were broken.”

Rhodes points out that the date of his request for an investigation is the same date in 2005 in which he accused another representative of potentially unethical behavior: then-House Speaker Jim Black.  “At the time, when I served as an elected representative, I had the responsibility and duty to my oath of office to speak out against activities that were harming citizens and their institutions of government. Today I have the responsibility … as a private citizen to once again call out questionable dealings that hurt the people of this state and their institutions, especially now in this House of Representatives as we have seen.”

Rhodes’ 2005 allegations gave rise to charges of federal corruption for which Black was later imprisoned.

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