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Teachers group did not disclose cost of radio ads

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By Todd Cohen

The statewide teachers group that sponsored radio ads produced by a gaming-firm consultant to push Republican senators to vote for a state lottery did not disclose to the state the cost of the ads.

On a form it filed Oct. 25 with the state Secretary of State’s Office reporting its lobbying expenses from January 1 through September 2, the N.C. Association of Educators does not mention Kevin Geddings of Charlotte, who produced the radio ads, or say how much he was paid or how much was spent on the ads.

Colleen Borst, executive director of the nonprofit association, said the group had hired Geddings as a vendor, not a lobbyist.

She also said she did not know whether radio ads constituted lobbying.

And she declined to say how much the association had spent on the ads.

Questions about lobbying that led to lawmakers’ approval this year of a state lottery have triggered calls for tougher curbs on lobbying, for greater disclosure by organizations and individuals involved in lobbying, and for speeding up the effective date of a new lobbying law.

The new law, approved by lawmakers this year, takes effect Jan. 1, 2007.

Under current state law, lobbying includes “solicitation of others by lobbyists” to influence legislative action.

The law defines a lobbyist as an individual who is “employed and receives compensation, or who contracts for economic consideration, for the purpose of lobbying.”

State law also requires that a lobbyist’s “principal”, the entity for which a lobbyist shapes or tries to shape legislative action, must identify lobbyists it employs and disclose their compensation and related expenses.

In response to questions from the Philanthropy Journal, lawyers in the state Secretary of State’s Office are looking at the law to see whether it covers radio ads or their cost, said George Jeter, director of communications the office.

“Under the current lobbying law,” he said, “many kinds of lobbying expenses don’t have to be reported.”

Violating the law is a misdemeanor and results in a lobbyist’s loss of lobbying privileges for two years.

The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating possible lobbying-law violations involving four targets identified by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Geddings, a former consultant to the Senate Democratic Caucus who worked for gaming firm Scientific Games, is one of four targets the Secretary of State’s Office asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate, Jeter said.

The others, he said, are Scientific Games; Alan Middleton, a vice president at the firm; and Meredith Norris, a former aide to House Speaker Jim Black who also worked for the firm.

But the scope of the investigation will not necessarily be limited to the four targets identified by the Secretary of State’s Office, and could include any possible violations of the law, said Noelle Talley, spokesman for the state Department of Justice.

Attorney General Roy Cooper has directed the State Bureau of Investigation “to look at all aspects of the issue,” she said.

Borst of the N.C. Association of Educators said the radio ads were “part of our effort to get more money for schools” through a state lottery.

“We’re just a group of teachers and other educators trying to get more money for education any way we can see that is right,” she said. “We do our dead-level best to keep everything above board and legal.”

If radio ads were considered to be lobbying, and if the lobbying-disclosure form that must be filed with the Secretary of State’s Office required the disclosure of spending on radio ads, she said, “we would file it.”

She declined to say how much the association spent on the ads.

“I don’t think we should be telling that information,” she said.

J.B. Kelly, general counsel for the Attorney General’s Office, said the lobbying law’s “expectation that the public be made aware of expenditures to attempt to influence legislative action applies to nonprofits as well as for-profit corporations, and the public has a right to know expenditures from all entities.”

Scientific Games has disclosed it paid $24,500 to Geddings this year for communications work, including $4,500 to reimburse him for production costs on a radio ad, and $5,000 to prepare state Sen. Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat, for a lottery debate, according to press reports.

Also preparing Rand, those reports said, was Norris, who worked for Scientific Games as a monitor, or unregistered lobbyist, and was a staff member and political director for Black, a Charlotte Democrat who named Geddings to the state lottery commission.

Geddings, who reportedly was paid $100,000 last year by the Senate Democratic Caucus, resigned from the state lottery commission Nov. 1, hours before Scientific Games disclosed it had paid him.

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