Lender welcomes Tillis for fundraiser

Jun. 25, 2013 @ 08:42 PM

RALEIGH — The man who helped direct a $1.8 million political and lobbying effort for consumer finance lenders is co-hosting a fundraiser for North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis' fledgling U.S. Senate campaign, less than a week after a bill hiking profits for the industry became state law.

Tillis was expected to be in Greenville Tuesday for a luncheon co-hosted by Time Investment Corp. president Royce Everette, who owns 19 consumer finance offices across the state. Everette is also the chairman of legislative affairs for the Resident Lenders of North Carolina, an industry group that championed passage of a bill raising interest rates and fees on the consumer finance loans marketed to low-income borrowers.

Everette's wife, Bonnie, and his mother, Gail Blanton, are also listed as hosts for the event held at the home of Parker Overton, the founder of a chain of watersports stores. According to an invitation sent out by the Thom Tillis Committee, hosts for the event donated a minimum of $5,200 a couple. Guests paid at least $500.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that consumer finance lenders spent at least $1.8 million since 2010 to hire 20 lobbyists and steer at least $300,000 campaign contributions to North Carolina lawmakers, with the bulk of the money going to influential Republicans. Tillis' state campaign got more than $30,000 of that money, records show.

With the speaker's support, the industry's bill sailed through the legislature. It was signed into law June 19 by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican whose campaign also got money from the industry.

It is illegal for state lawmakers to receive campaign donations from lobbyists or, while the General Assembly is still in session, those employing lobbyists. Those reforms were introduced in 2006 after a scandal where big money donors were caught passing cash for political favors. It is legal, however, for Tillis to raise money for his federal campaign from sources that might otherwise trigger ethics complaints under the state rules.

A copy of the invitation for Tuesday's fundraiser obtained by AP includes boxes for donors to check whether they are paying personally or with a check from a political action committee. That would potentially allow groups and lobbyists seeking state legislation to give cash to Tillis' Senate campaign, even though it would be illegal for them to give to his state campaign.

Even before Tillis announced May 30 that he will seek the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a non-profit entity called N.C. House Legislative Partners paid for campaign-style television ads featuring the House speaker. Under federal law, the group is free to raise and spend unlimited money from undisclosed donors_including lobbyists, corporations and other special interests barred from giving under state law.

As he helped engineer the Republican takeover of the state legislature in the run-up to the 2010 election, Tillis traveled the state railing against the pay-to-play culture that he said dominated the legislative process then dominated by Democrats.

Tillis campaign spokesman Paul Shumaker said Monday there is no problem with the House speaker raising money for his Senate run from donors with business pending before the state legislature. He pointed out that Hagan is free to raise money from donors with interests before Congress.

"We have strict separation between campaigns," said Shumaker, a general consultant to Tillis' Senate campaign. "There is no issue there. It's understandable that individuals and media folks who may not be supportive of the speaker would raise issues like that."

Everette said Monday that he supports Tillis because he is good for business, including consumer finance lenders. He said they had been trying to get the consumer finance bill passed for about 15 years but got little traction before Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011.

Everette denied his financial support of Tuesday's fundraiser was payback for passage of the industry's bill. He has supported candidates from both parties over the years, he said.

"If you have a person who you think is a good person you try to support them," Everette said. "That's the way it goes. Thom Tillis is a good person. Did he help us? Yes. So I support him."

Records show Everette has donated at least $74,000 to state campaigns since 2010, including $11,000 to Tillis. His mother, who is the CEO of Time Investment, gave at least another $40,000, including $7,500 to Tillis.

Everette said he didn't know how much more he would donate to Tillis' U.S. Senate campaign.

"I've been to a number of his fundraisers over the years," he said. "I'm going to write him a check."