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WNCN Investigates

Political donors score GOP appointments, but is the practice ethical?

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Campaign finance records uncovered last week show three men recently appointed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly to the UNC Board of Governors were donors to speaker Thom Tillis's Super PAC, which is trying to get him a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Two of the appointees were longtime donors to his House campaigns.

Tillis' staff denied the House speaker had any influence over their appointments, but Democrats still cried foul.

"Speaker Tillis is using the House agenda to finance his U.S. Senate campaign," said Ben Ray, with the North Carolina Democratic Party.

After further investigation, WNCN found 14 of this year's 16 Board of Governors appointees were GOP donors. But political experts say that shouldn't be a surprise, and it's not necessarily wrong.

"It's not as bad as the other side makes it seem," says David McLennan, a political expert with William Peace University. "The governor and the speaker want to appoint people to boards and commissions that reflect their own points of view."

Ben Ray, with the democratic party, counters, "It certainly seems that with such a high percentage of appointees being donors that it's on the way to being a prerequisite."

By law, lawmakers can make those appointment, but it often appears to the other side as pay-for-play politics. McLennan said it would only be considered unethical if a board member were promised an appointment in exchange for a donation.

It's not just legislators rewarding donors. Just last week, Gov. Pat McCrory appointed 15 supporters to the Governors Western Residence Board of Directors. Their job is to maintain McCrory's tax-payer funded Asheville retreat and plan functions there.

Once again, the governor did reward some donors with these ceremonial posts. WNCN found at least five out of the 15 appointed have made donations to the GOP or to McCory's campaign directly.

But why so many members?

"This particular board does not have a whole lot of power [or] a whole lot of responsibility," McLennan said.

They aren't paid, so what do they get out of the deal?

"It's primarily access to the governor," McLennan explained. "When the governor is out in the western part of the state, he will host a function for these 15 people."

And they can host their own events at the residence.

McCrory also appointed several GOP mega-donors to his cabinet.

Democrats say the recent UNC appointments are hypocritical after Republicans accused former Gov. Bev Perdue of similar favors.

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