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WNCN Investigates

Big donors to Tillis appointed to UNC board

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

House Speaker Thom Tillis is facing questions after a super PAC working for his U.S Senate bid raised $70,000 from three men the House appointed to the UNC Board of Governors.

Every two years, the General Assembly selects 16 people to serve on the Board of Governors. The House voted on March 21 to fill eight appointments.

The three appointed men in question are W.G. Champion Mitchell, R. Doyle Parrish and George Sywassink.

From April to June of this year, the super PAC, Grow NC Strong, raised $105,000 from individual contributions, according to campaign finance records.

Mitchell donated $25,000, Parrish $20,000 and Sywassink $25,000, according to records.

WNCN Investigates also learned, Sywassink and Mitchell have been longtime donors to Tillis' House campaigns, according to state Board of Elections records.

The donations are leading some critics to call into question whether the contributions are connected to the appointments.

Tillis is running to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014.

Guidelines restrict Tillis from directly soliciting donations for the super PAC.

Experts say there are no ethics guidelines to be broken here. Campaign finance watchdog Bob Hall, of Democracy NC, said because Tillis is running for the U.S Senate, regulations that might apply for state office holders do not apply.

But there is still the appearance and suspicion from political opponents and critics of pay for play politics.

"The Republican leaders have promised a change to the pay-to-play culture, they have been very critical of," Hall said. "Here we have the Speaker doing exactly that."

He added, "He is in danger of it becoming a [campaign] issue for him."

Months ago, Tillis was criticized for getting cozy with predatory lenders shortly after the Tillis-led House passed a bill allowing them to hike interest rates.

Gov. Pat McCrory also came under fire at the start of his first term after appointing a number of cabinet members who were also major GOP donors.

The accusations are a two-way street.

Republicans long were critical of previous administrations and their appointments, accusing "pay for play."

Democrats were quick to pounce on the news of the appointees.

"Now it's clear, Special Interest Speaker Thom Tillis has put the North Carolina House agenda up for sale," said Ben Ray, a spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party. "From predatory lenders to would-be UNC Governors, Speaker Tillis appears to be financing his Senate campaign by selling the agenda of the North Carolina House to the highest bidder."

Tillis's campaign spokesman, did not return our request for comment.

Jordan Shaw, Communications Director to the Speaker, told us Tillis would not comment. However, he did say, the board members were elected by the full house (which is GOP led), and dismissed the notion the Speaker had influence.

It should be noted, the appointees also donated to other GOP candidates as well.  

The three donors in question would not comment either.

Jonathan Carlson

Jonathan is an investigative reporter and anchor with over a decade of experience. Jonathan has broken stories that have resulted in local and statewide change. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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