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RALEIGH—The North Carolina State Ethics Commission received a record number of 103 complaints in 2014, according to the commission’s latest annual report. The commission found 30 of the complaints sufficient to merit official review, also a record high.

The commission and its staff are responsible for fielding and sometimes investigating allegations of impropriety by public officials, elected and otherwise.

Some complaints are still unresolved, as 17 were referred to the Judicial Standards Commission for review and four remained under investigation by the ethics commission in February, when the annual report was completed.

However, there appears to have been no uptick in actual violations, at least according to the currently available data.

The report, which can be read below, doesn’t indicate if anyone in North Carolina violated ethics laws last year, and the commission is prohibited by state law from discussing almost all of its investigations.

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Anyone can file an ethics complaint against such “covered persons,” but the complaint cannot be anonymous, and it must be issued in writing, signed and sworn. Furthermore, it must allege specific violations in order to be considered by the commission.

The commission, in existence since 2007, had seen the number of complaints drop in recent years. In 2013, just 66 complaints were filed, down from a 2010 peak of 97.

The commission’s executive director, Perry Newson, said he doesn’t know why complaints spiked in 2014.

“It was a record year for complaints, but I really cannot attribute that to anything in particular,” he said in an email to Carolina Public Press. “It was an election year, but so was 2012, 2010, and 2008. I don’t know what accounts for it.”

In an investigation published last September, Carolina Public Press found that the ethics commission generally enjoys bipartisan support but is bound by secrecy constraints and facing an ever-increasing workload that may threaten its mandate to keep state and local officials on the level.

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NC State Ethics Commission Annual Report 2014 (PDF)

NC State Ethics Commission Annual Report 2014 (Text)

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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