House Speaker Tim Moore, the second-most powerful politician in North Carolina, is now under some type of investigation by prosecutors and the media. The state Democratic Party is calling him “corrupt.”

But is there fire behind all the smoke? Or is this just an election-season attack?

The Tim Moore investigation comes after a series of articles in The News & Observer called into question the nature of the relationship with some of his legal clients.

The claims about Moore are hard to decipher, and the murky nature of this area of the law makes it even more unclear.

Here’s what we know about Tim Moore investigations.

What is Tim Moore accused of doing?

Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, is an attorney in private practice. This whole thing involves his work as a lawyer and his friendship with a guy named Neal Hunter, the former CEO of Cree.

Basically, the implication is this: Moore may have gotten a legal work contract with Hunter’s new company as a thank-you for helping Hunter with a real estate investment a few years before.

Here are the details, as reported by the N&O:

In the mid-2000s, Hunter owned a piece of land near Jordan Lake in Durham that he wanted to turn into a mixed-use development called 751 South.

Renderings via 751 South’s website

But there was a problem. The property wasn’t very lucrative for development unless the city of Durham was willing to extend water and sewer service there — and they didn’t want to do it.

So in 2013, as the chairman of the General Assembly’s rules committee at the time, Rep. Moore pushed a bill that would force Durham to provide the service.

Over the next few years, Hunter contributed about $30,000 to Moore’s campaigns.

Fast forward three years. Tim Moore is now the House speaker. In 2016, Hunter co-founded a company called KNOW Bio, a pharmaceutical startup. At some point, Hunter gave Moore a roughly $40,000 contract at the company to do legal work regarding how federal tax law treated the startup.

In 2017, then-KNOW Bio CEO Anne Whitaker found out about the contract and canceled it, questioning why it was necessary.

Why does this matter?

It’s perfectly fine for General Assembly members to build their private legal businesses. It’s OK to do work for companies with business before the state legislature.

But it’s not OK to accept a freebie or contract in exchange for doing them a favor in the General Assembly.

The actual law says that a public official cannot “ask, accept, demand, exact, solicit, seek, assign, receive, or agree to receive anything of value in return for being influenced in the discharge of official responsibilities.”

That’s the implication.

What’s going to be looked at?

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman (a Democrat, for the record) told the N&O that she’s asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the arrangement, but says it wouldn’t be a criminal inquiry.

Presumably, investigators would want to see whether Moore could produce evidence of the actual work he did for KNOW Bio — reports of billable hours, memos produced, etc.

What does Moore say?

“Know this: Anytime I take on a client I ensure there are no conflicts with other legal matters I’m handling, and I’m always double extra careful to make sure there’s no conflicts or anything with my legislative role,” Moore told the N&O.

Photo by NC Speaker Tim Moore via Facebook

Haven’t I seen other headlines involving Tim Moore?

Yes, there have been a few other instances in which Moore’s relationships have been called into question.

  • In March, the Campaign for Accountability filed an ethics complaint claiming that Moore got special treatment from the state Department of Environmental Quality involving a Siler City poultry plant that his company bought and flipped. WRAL looked into this and everybody said the situation was handled normally.
  • Moore forwarded the resume of his then-fiancee to a few state departments hiring lawyers.
  • The State Board of Elections also got an anonymous letter this year saying that Moore got a $10,000 contract to represent the nonprofit North Carolina Bail Agents Association in exchange for his support on a bill that would help them win business. Moore recused himself from voting on the bill.

Is this real or just political theater?

Look, this is an election year. That has to be the primary reason that a lot of these stories are coming out this fall. Opposition researchers are in high gear.

But there is a deeper question on how Tim Moore has balanced his private work and public responsibilities.

The General Assembly is full of attorneys, and the state ethics laws give them a lot of cover to keep from disclosing clients. One effect of these investigations could be a more clear ethics law for attorneys.

You would hope that Tim Moore kept detailed records of the work he did for potentially sensitive clients.

Some N.C. Republicans have privately worried about this. If he hasn’t, this probe could drag on.

Cover image by NC Speaker Tim Moore via Facebook.

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