The single largest donor to candidates for North Carolina's General Assembly in 2012 turns out to be a video gambling software executive who now faces racketeering charges in Florida. New data compiled by the nonprofit Democracy North Carolina shows Chase Burns donated more than $230,000 to Governor Pat McCrory, candidates for state legislature and the North Carolina Republican Party.
Chase Burns is not a name many North Carolina lawmakers know, but his money flowed into the campaigns of more than 60 of them last year – both Democrats and Republicans.
In 2011, Burns gave to just a few top lawmakers, says Democracy North Carolina's Bob Hall, "and he didn't give anything in 2010. So he has emerged just suddenly, dramatically."
According to analysis by Democracy North Carolina, Burns gave far more than any other individual donor to General Assembly candidates in 2012. Burns' sudden, intense interest in North Carolina politicians coincides with the internet gambling industry's fight to defeat a state ban on sweepstakes parlors.
Burns owns a company called International Internet Technologies which makes software used by many sweepstakes operators in North Carolina. But the company's Florida business is what has North Carolina lawmakers scrambling to distance themselves from Burns. Last week he was arrested on racketeering and conspiracy charges tied to a gambling scam in Florida that has already led to the resignation of that state's lieutenant governor.
Here in North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory rushed to donate to charity the $8,000 he got from Burns. Many lawmakers of both parties are following suit.
Charlotte-area Democratic Representatives Tricia Cotham (who got $1,000) and Kelly Alexander (who got $2,500) say the money from Burns was unsolicited and will go to charity.
Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina says it's not uncommon for candidates to take money without questioning the source.
"We are in an environment where legislators are eager to find sources of money," says Hall. "They want legal sources, obviously, but they're not really trying to ask a whole lot of questions about it."
Governor Pat McCrory's former employer has also been caught in the saga.
Moore & Van Allen did lobbying work for Burns' sweepstakes software company until the scandal broke last week, at which point the law firm severed that relationship. A spokesman for the Moore & Van Allen says McCrory did not work on that account.