Lobbyists and the fast track

by YES! Staff

Lobbyists and the fast track

The role of a lobbyist, ostensibly, is to remind elected officials of the presence of special interests: corporations, whole industries and issues that might otherwise go unheeded by politicians elected, again ostensibly, to represent the best interests of the people of their districts.

But in North Carolina, we can often draw straight lines between the causes espoused by powerful lobbyists and legislation that gets considered by the General Assembly.

This week, the NC Center for Public Policy Research released its annual list of the most influential lobbyists on Jones Street in Raleigh. Noteworthy is a shift in the Top 10 to reflect the Republican takeover in 2010, which put them in control of both houses for the first time in more than 100 years.

That new power brokers have Republican ties should come as no surprise — that’s the way it works. But a look at their pages on the NC secretary of state page, where all lobbyists must register, provides some insight into the things that will be up for legislation this year.


Tom Fetzer, a former mayor of Raleigh and state GOP chair, is actively registered with Waste Management, Duke Energy, Nationwide Insurance, WakeMed, United Healthcare, the NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers Asso- ciation, construction supply company Martin Mari- etta, a slew of NC cities and something called the Tryon Palace Council of Friends, a museum in New Bern.

Fetzer is the No. 2 lobbyist  on the this year’s list. It his first year on the job.

At No. 1 is rising star Dana Simpson, just 38, who last year was ranked at 14. He’s an insider, too – his wife is government affairs director for the NC Association of Realtors and before law school at UNC, he worked as special assistant to Co-Speaker of the NC House Richard Morgan, who served with Jim Black.

Simpson boasts a healthy client roster including a slate of healthcare-related companies — WakeMed, Novartis, the NC Society of Anesthesiologists, the NC Oncology Association, the NC Dental Society, NC Community Care Centers, Hospira, Logisticare and Gilead Sciences among them — which portends lots of legislative activity in this sector as the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The rest of the list is littered with former legslators like Connie Wilson of Mecklenburg, a former state representative and senator, who has among her holdings the union-busting group the Coalition for NC Jobs, and also Business and Education Leaders for Smart Start and Jobs, a nonprofit headed by anti-tea party crusader Richard Nordan.

That the agendas of these two entities may be at odds should not be a problem for Wilson — there is no such thing as a conflict of interest when it comes to professional lobbyists. The only law that applies to her activities on the House floor is that she cannot lobby legislators she served with. And she doesn’t have to worry about that one: Wilson resigned in October 2004. By January 2005, she was registered as a lobbyist with the secretary of state.

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