RALEIGH — The N.C. State Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint against a veteran state lawmaker who used the N.C. House chamber as the backdrop for a political advertisement for his primary campaign in which legislative employees were extras.
The commission formally dismissed this week the allegations against Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, who has served in the House since the early 1980s and is currently the only Democrat among the chief budget-writers in the chamber.
A worker at the liberal-leaning advocacy group Progress North Carolina filed the complaint in March, accusing Crawford of breaking the law that prevents the use of state funds for advertising in which an elected official appears and by using legislative workers.
The complaint came as Progress North Carolina criticized Crawford’s voting record and as he campaigned for re-election to the House. He lost in the May primary to fellow Rep. Winkie Wilkins, D-Person. The pair was drawn into the same House district north of the Triangle.
In its dismissal notice, the commission reviewed information gathered in its investigation and concluded Crawford “did not use or permit the use of state funds in the production of his campaign advertisement.”
The panel also found no probable cause that Crawford violated other state ethics laws, according to the notice dated Tuesday, a copy of which Crawford provided to The Associated Press. The News & Observer of Raleigh first reported the dismissal on its web site. The commission doesn’t comment on specific complaints it receives.
In a 30-second TV ad, Crawford was at his desk on the House floor speaking as if he were in a debate. Behind him sat several women who were actually legislative assistants.
Two state employees told a television station they were on the job when they participated in the shoot. Crawford said Wednesday the employees who participated took vacation or leave from their state jobs. The workers were told at the time of the ad “they couldn’t do it on state time,” Crawford said in an interview. Four workers were paid $50 or $100 for compensation as extras, according to Crawford’s campaign finance report.
Crawford’s critics accused him of receiving favored treatment by using the chamber, but the commission said its investigation found “the House chamber is open to the public at no charge during regular business hours.”
Justin Guillory, the Progress North Carolina worker who filed the complaint, said he would review the dismissal before deciding whether to appeal the matter to an administrative law judge. Guillory said he’s glad to see no state funds were used and it’s now clear to everyone the chamber is available to everyone. But he said he still believes Crawford “got caught with his hand in the cookie jar” when the ad’s production details were made public two months ago.
Crawford called the complaint frivolous and politically motivated but doesn’t think it changed the outcome of the May 8 primary election because it wasn’t close — Wilkins won with 56 percent of the vote.
Guillory said Crawford’s vote on the 2011 state budget was a more significant reason why he lost. Crawford was one of five House Democrats who joined with Republicans to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the bill.