Friday, Meredith Norris, Jim Black's former political director, pled no-contest to charges of unregistered lobbying. Jim Black had a legal setback Monday when a judge ruled that certain contributions funneled through the Optometry PAC were illegal and must be forfeited. This follows Michael Decker's August 1st guilty plea to conspiracy to extort, mail fraud and money laundering and a clandestine meeting at a Salisbury IHOP, widely considered to be with Black.
Last Sunday NBC17's At Issue local political panel had Nelson Dollar, Joe Sinsheimer and Bill Faison discussing the Black & Decker events. Dollar had little to add to the discussion.
Joe Sinsheimer called Jim Black's response to Decker's plea the Swiss Cheese defense highlighting inconsistencies in Black's version of events which were summarized in a press release Monday also picked up by NC Spin for discussion this weekend.
Bill Faison, while elsewhere expressing his desire to replace Jim Black as speaker, hedged his bets by claiming that Jim Black was simply following the rules voted in place by the legislature. Faison had previously told the Charlotte Observer that news of Decker's guilty plea was "shocking". Faison is medical malpractice attorney by trade and this faux naïveté is disingenuous at best. In the 2004 election cycle Faison gave Black $4,500
Meanwhile Andrew Brock, unopposed Republican State Senator and political consultant by trade, tried to catch a wave with a made-for-viral-marketing anti-Black pro-nothing video ad.
This sordid affair is a function of incumbency, political access and the aggregation of power in legislators who have the ability or good fortune to be re-elected year after year with little or no opposition. Major contributors to Black's campaign are often major Republican or bi-partisan donors. For example Charlotte developers Crosland have given to Black, Burr, Myrick, Santorum, Hayes, Foxx, Bowles, Edwards and Bush. Jim Goodnight has given to Black, Hayes, Burr, McIntyre, Hastert, Etheridge, Foxx, Price, Dole and Burr.
Many Democrats have adopted a wait-and-see attitude with respect to Jim Black, indictments and guilt. For anyone who has dared to break the surface of this cesspool the time to wait has long passed. Like a car alarm on streets of New York the calls for action on Black have largely been ignored. The mainstream press is jaded by the Black story. Issues in plain sight are passed over by mainstream media because there's no scoop or because the week's Black story has already been written.
On the other hand, State and Federal investigators have been methodically compiling evidence and building cases. Here's a few issues they might be looking at, all of which is public knowledge but not widely known:
Much of Black's power as Speaker stems from a rout of the black caucus which shifted allegiance away from Dan Blue. Black has sustained this power with direct and, indirect contributions via discretionary funds, to black House members and their interests. This includes Pete Cunningham and the Anita Stroud foundation, Alma Adams and the African American Atelier and Bennett College. Black has also directed discretionary funds to the International Civil Rights Museum owned by Rep. Earl Jones and "Skip" Alston who, with Alma Adams, controls the Simpkins PAC which is critical to GOTV and electoral support in the Piedmont.
The Black campaign accepted money order contributions, a cash equivalent, without payers identified, presumed to be from the video poker industry and amended subsequent reports to exclude these contributions.
Board of Elections member Robert Cordle is not only a Senior Counsel in the law firm defending Black but since the Board of Elections hearing on Black's contributions Cordle has had the audacity to contribute $1,000 to Black's campaign on 6/29/06.
In recent years Black's campaign has given $12,000 to MST Ltd, a shell company owned by Matthews Mayor and attorney Lee Myers ostensibly for "travel" but with no clear purpose. Previously Black had made individual $4,000 contributions annually to Myers.
Jim Black steered $250,000 in State funds to an agency associated with his church in Matthews NC. Black directed $250,000 to Senior Activities & Services Inc, AKA the "Happy Times Club" which has been a ministry of the Matthews United Methodist Church since 1972 and was listed as such until April/06. Black has described himself as serving on the administrative board of the Matthews United Methodist Church and as President of the Methodist Men's Club.
$200,000 was redirected from funds appropriated to DHHS for programs of the Jewish Community Center of Charlotte by an item slipped into the 4th edition of the budget technical corrections bill (Modify 2005 Appropriations Act, HB320) 8/24/05 while $50,000 previously came from Black's discretionary fund 09/28/04. The State Auditor recently cited Senior Activities & Services Inc as one of many non-profits failing to properly account for use of State funds.
The money was used by the "Happy Times Club" to construct a new building in Matthews on 9.8 acres of land donated by Crosland and Faison, developers of the adjacent "Sycamore Commons" mall. Crosland is a major contributor to Black. E.g., on a single day last year, 5/25/05, Black recorded $10,500 in contributions from Crosland employees.
$1 million was also donated by Leon Levine. Black gave $50,000 of his discretionary funds to the Levine Museum of the New South last year. In 2002 presented Levine with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Levine is founder and Chairman Emeritus of Family Dollar Stores which a federal jury recently found guilty of willfully misclassifying hourly workers as salaried managers to avoid paying overtime and was ordered by the judge to pay $33.2 million. While not a major donor to Black's campaign, Levine gives generously to major projects for which Black claims some credit.
I’d like to think that Jim Black is a relatively decent man who has been propelled by circumstance and opportunity into a parallel universe disconnected from our own reality. While his achievements are abundant, they contain within them the seeds of destruction for NC Democratic candidates, state, local and federal and he has blind spots for many Democratic and Progressive issues. This whole business stinks and if we don’t clean it up ourselves nobody else will.
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