Pat McCrory's famously thin skin, well-remembered in these parts from Charlotte City Council meetings past, has been on full display recently. It seems the mounting questions about his corporate connections and sources of income finally got to him. You'd probably be irritable, too, if someone followed you around everywhere in an owl suit and sporting a "Hoo Pays Pat?" sign. Then again, you're not running for governor, a position that, as weird as this may seem, many people consider important enough to warrant a thorough public screening.
Two liberal nonprofits, Progress NC and Progress NC Action, have dogged McCrory for weeks, asking why he refuses to release his tax returns — any tax returns — and raising questions about the former Charlotte mayor's sources of income.
When New Jersey Gov. Chris "Hide the Groceries" Christie campaigned for McCrory in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, McCrory specifically instructed Christie not to call for him to release his tax returns. Christie had previously urged Mitt Romney to cough up his returns, and that apparently made Pat nervous. Talk about touchy.
Last week, McCrory's prickliness ratcheted up as he launched a counterattack on the two Progress NC groups while ignoring the issues they raised. He blasted them as part of "The Perdue-Walton smear machine" and suggested that the media look into the groups' backers, particularly the two Progress NC Action board members with close ties to the Democratic Party. McCrory's attack on the groups overflowed with delicious irony, however, as some of his strongest support comes from hyper-partisan right-wing groups like the John Locke Foundation, Americans for the Prosperous, er, for Prosperity and Civitas — all of which are closely tied to Art Pope, the North Carolina GOP billionaire who bankrolled his party's takeover of the state General Assembly in 2010.
So far, McCrory's tax-return embargo hasn't had a notable impact on his poll numbers — unlike Romney, whose campaign suffered serious damage from the same issue. In any case, who would have guessed that two such bland, white-bread political candidates would become men of mystery?
As the McCrory campaign railed against the Progress NC groups, you got the sense that their questions about McCrory's sources of income had become a big concern. He's not used to people pointing out his career-long role as a corporate-sponsored politician, as the issue was only occasionally raised during his time as Charlotte mayor. In a recent interview with Creative Loafing's Mike Cooper, McCrory, who was employed by Duke Energy during his mayoral career, said that while in office in Charlotte, "there was no breach of ethics, no hint of corruption" on his part. The truth, though, is that nobody in local government had the courage to confront McCrory on the unseemliness of his close ties with one of the city's corporate giants. It's also true that late in his mayoral tenure, his bonds with Duke Energy became all too clear. It started with a debate over how the city would deal with the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement — a pledge passed in 2005 and signed by representatives of more than 1,000 cities, agreeing to cut greenhouse gases to pre-1990 levels in order to reduce global warming.
McCrory chaired the USCM committee that drafted the pledge, but he refused to sign it, partly because the agreement did not include support for nuclear power as an alternative energy source. After the Charlotte Observer criticized his stance, McCrory penned an op-ed in which he so blatantly shilled for the wonders of nuclear power ("clean the air," "make us more energy independent"), I thought he was going to announce that he had changed his name to Reddy Kilowatt. The whole thing read like a paid commercial for his employer — which, in a sense, of course, it was. That's not reassuring to voters who expect a governor to act in the public interest rather than leaning toward whichever way the money's blowing.
Gubernatorial candidates in North Carolina are not required to release tax returns, but they do have to deliver an "economic-interest statement." McCrory's statement is a masterpiece of hedging. He gets a salary from Moore & Van Allen, a lobbying law firm in Charlotte, for his role in planning "strategic initiatives." Vague enough for you? Other arrangements, such as McCrory's financial interest in Lending Tree or the Kewaunee Scientific Corp. — never mind his past devotion to Duke Energy — are obvious red flags for anyone looking for possible conflicts of interest. This isn't to say McCrory would be a crooked governor, but surely he knows how bad it looks when candidates refuse to reveal financial records.
If only the guy wasn't so touchy.