The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Improper business

Republican gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine's use of his N.C. Senate office to promote his business to lobbyists was inappropriate.

Patrick Ballantine, R-New Hanover, spent 10 years in the N.C. Senate, and for two of them, he was on the payroll of Image Products Inc. of Wilmington and charged with finding new customers. For that two years of work, he was paid about $11,000.

During that time, Ballantine peddled his wares to a number of trade associations and lobby groups with business before the Senate. Representatives from these groups said that Ballantine was responsible for securing at least three contracts for his employer.

Ballantine admits to meeting with these groups while the legislature was in session but says that referrals he made for Image Products never influenced his vote.

Though Ballantine did not break the law, there are huge ethical problems with conducting such private business while working for the public.

Legislative guidelines say lawmakers are not supposed to use their offices for personal gain, and in this particular case, it is hard to tell where the lawmaker began and the salesman left off.

Mike Bender, the company's president and a close friend of the Ballantine family, told The (Raleigh) News & Observer "Did someone shake my hand because of Patrick Ballantine? Sure they did," Bender said. "Did someone take a phone call? Absolutely."

In fact, involved parties agree that, at the very least, the prestige of Ballantine's office opened doors for Image Products that would otherwise have stayed shut, though lobbyists say they never felt pressured to buy from the former Senate Minority Leader and current gubernatorial candidate.

The public is left to wonder about the sincerity of these assurances. Can we be certain the lobbyists weren't hoping for a favor when they awarded business to the friend of a prominent legislator? What is the value of Ballantine's word when he says his business associations did not influence his vote?

The public deserves to know the answer to these questions, but the Senate Ethics Committee doesn't appear ready to answer them. The group of legislators hasn't met in five years, and it shows no indication of doing so now.

The silence is deafening.

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