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Relationships, financial interests and other motivators that can sway North Carolina legislation are sometimes hidden in plain sight. A trove of public records recently obtained by Carolina Public Press details the assets and connections of mountain-area legislators and their challengers in the upcoming election.

Every year, state legislators — along with a host of other public servants and candidates for public office — are required to file a Statement of Economic Interest with the State Ethics Commission. These documents, called SEIs for short, offer a rare window into state leaders’ financial holdings, corporate and board positions, and closest family ties.

Last month, a CPP investigation found that the ethics commission is now vetting some 7,000 SEIs per year, a number that’s ever-growing as the commission scrambles to keep up with processing them.

The nine-page SEI form probes surprisingly deep into the private lives of public officials, requiring them to list not only which family members they live with and who those individuals work for, but also the following information for themselves, their spouses and any children claimed as dependents:

• any real estate holdings above $10,000 in value;
• numerous categories of business with the state, including work contracts, rentals and sales;
• all stock holdings, itemized by company, exceeding $10,000 in value;
• any liabilities over $10,000, including credit card debts and auto and student loans; and
• leadership or employment roles with companies or groups involved in lobbying or advocacy.

In addition to those broad family requirements, legislators and others must list any personal felony convictions and further details about their employment and sources of income, among other information.

Given their wealth of data, SEIs can help determine whether a legislator’s self interest clashes with their public service — but the forms aren’t exactly readily accessible.

The documents are public records under state law, and for a brief period this summer, the ethics commission placed many recent SEIs online in a searchable database. However, technical glitches, along with some concerns about just how much private information is revealed in the documents, caused the commission to take down the online collection, at least for the time being.

In an interview last month, Jane Pinsky, director of the Raleigh-based nonprofit group N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said the SEIs are crucial documents for maintaining oversight of ethics in state government. She also lamented the brevity of their recent online availability.

“Years ago, citizens should have been able to check anybody’s Statement of Economic Interest on the Internet,” she said. “They should have been up there, frankly, five years ago.”

Now, CPP has obtained and published the most recent SEI filings by WNC’s state legislators and their electoral challengers (with one exception, noted below in the discussion of N.C. House District 85). The forms were provided by the ethics commission, relatively promptly and for free, in response to our records request.

MORE:
Find your district and your current state legislators by visiting Who Represents Me?, a service of the N.C. General Assembly.

The documents are listed below and organized by district, first for the state Senate, then for the state House.

In reviewing the documents, note that some were filed prior to 2014; in those cases, the legislators in question have filed so-called “no-change” forms since their last complete filing, asserting that none of the relevant information has changed.

State Senate incumbents and their challengers

Here are the most recent complete SEI forms from WNC’s state senators and their challengers in this fall’s election.

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State senate districts for North Carolina’s 18 westernmost counties. Carolina Public Press graphic, excerpted from N.C. General Assembly map

State House incumbents and their challengers

Here are the most recent complete SEI forms from WNC’s state representatives and their challengers in this fall’s election.

State House districts for North Carolina’s 18 westernmost counties. Carolina Public Press graphic, excerpted from N.C. General Assembly map


Editor’s note: Dobson is being challenged by Democratic candidate JR Edwards, as his name will be listed on the ballot. But State Ethics Commission staff said they couldn’t locate an SEI form filed under that name, and that they are now searching for a form that might have been filed under the candidate’s legal name, which is Woodrow B. Edwards Jr. CPP will provide Edwards’ most recent SEI here if and when it becomes available.

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Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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