News Column

Gov. McCrory says no rules were broken in ethics filings on Duke Energy stock sale

August 14, 2014

By J. Andrew Curliss, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)



Aug. 14--Gov. Pat McCrory reacted strongly Thursday to a News & Observer report on new filings and disclosures by the governor about his sale of Duke Energy stock this year amid the company's coal-ash crisis.

McCrory, a former Duke employee, issued a statement and made remarks to reporters that said a "blaring" front-page story in Thursday's editions "overstates, misleads and gives a false impression that I did something ethically wrong regarding my Statement of Economic Interest filing."

"In fact, just the opposite occurred," the first-term governor said in a statement.

The N&O reported that McCrory had filed new ethics forms that corrected two previous ones -- and made clear that he owned Duke stock as of Dec. 31. In addition, The N&O reported that McCrory had sold the stock after a Duke plant spilled toxic coal ash into the Dan River near Virginia and as questions mounted about the possible cost of the clean-up to the company, shareholders and ratepayers.

McCrory acknowledged Thursday there were mistakes on his required state ethics filings this year, and he apologized for what he said was a misinterpretation of the forms by his general counsel, Bob Stephens.

McCrory signed the forms.

The form asks for a public official's financial interests as of Dec. 31, 2013. It is due by April 15 each year.

The governor filed his form on April 15, and it did not list ownership of Duke stock. His filing for 2012 did.

McCrory said he was trying to be forthcoming with the filing in April by showing that he no longer had a financial interest in Duke. He stressed that his spokesman had disclosed the Duke stock sale around that time.

That happened on May 1, when communications director Josh Ellis issued a statement to reporters that pointed to the absence of ownership in Duke stock as shown on the governor's April 15 ethics filing.

But Ellis would not provide details about when the sale or sales actually occurred.

In a press conference in mid-February -- after the coal-ash spill -- McCrory had indicated that he still owned the stock in his 401(k) retirement account.

But then the governor affirmed that he did not own the stock as of Dec. 31, according to his April filing. McCrory said Thursday he completed the "selling" of his energy stocks "right before I submitted that report" on April 15.

The N&O had sought for weeks to clarify when McCrory divested his Duke shares, and the administration would only say the sale had been at some point before April 15.

On Wednesday, McCrory signed new forms that correctly show his ownership in Duke stock at the end of 2013. Public officials who "knowingly" do not disclose required information can face penalties.

McCrory said it was a mistake but that "we haven't broken any rules or ethics violations or anything."

"It was a mistake of the interpretation of the form," McCrory told reporters Thursday. "We misinterpreted the filling out of the form in an effort to be more transparent, not less transparent."

McCrory also said Thursday that protesters who were making an issue of his ownership in Duke had prompted him to sell. The loudest protests were in early March.

McCrory said he spoke with Duke CEO Lynn Good several times this year, but that it was only to inform her of plans of his administration; he announced his clean-up plan on April 16. Lawmakers have proposed plans that are more aggressive, though no legislation has cleared the General Assembly.

"It wasn't seeking input," McCrory said of his conversations with Good.

Good said in early March that the potential cleanup costs for the coal ash problem would be in the billions.

Curliss: 919-829-4840; Twitter: @acurliss

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Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)


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