Lt. Gov. Got Sketchy Donations, Spent Campaign Cash on Wife’s Clothes

Catch up in 7 minutes: How to make Manchin happy + Raleigh’s fiscal future + Robinson’s “clerical errors" + Durham landlord shenanigans + Wake vs. hair discrimination

Tues., Feb. 23, 2021 

Welcome to Tuesday, friends. The weather gods will smile on us today, with mostly sunny skies and a springlike high in the mid-60s. Go outside if you can. 

Today’s Number: 22.5

Percentage of Raleigh’s projected 2020–21 budget allocated to policing.

  • Though the city projects spending about $9 million less this fiscal year than the previous one, the police department will spend about $4 million more. 

At a budget workshop today, the city council will review its numbers, which, well, could be worse

  • Last year, soon after the pandemic took hold, the city sharply downgraded its expectations. 

  • Thanks to better-than-expected sales tax revenues, the city is on track to break even. 

The question is whether to place a parks bond on the city ballot — and if so, how large it should be

  • The city currently spends an average of about $4.8 million a year on parks maintenance. By contrast, Durham spends about $1 million. 

  • That said, staff estimates its maintenance needs in the ballpark of $10–15 million a year, which, the PowerPoint admits, “is not based in realities of other City capital needs.”


1. Minimum Wage, Do or Die 

This week, perhaps today, Democrats will hear from Senate’s parliamentarian about whether they can include a minimum wage hike in a reconciliation bill. I won’t belabor the finer points of Senate minutia, but they should be — although Chuck Schumer’s life might be easier if the parliamentarian says no. Once that bridge is crossed, the hard part comes

  • They need all 50 Dems. 

  • Joe Manchin is a no on $15/hour. 

  • Kyrsten Sinema is a no on including the minimum wage in the COVID bill.

  • The House is likely to pass the COVID bill, minimum wage included, on Friday or Saturday. 

To get Manchin, Dems might reduce the wage hike from $15 to $11 or $12 and index it to inflation, which is where it should have been about a decade ago. That doesn’t help with Sinema, but Schumer has more leverage with her. 

  • Unlike Manchin, in 2024, Sinema won’t be the only Dem who can win her state. 

  • If she single-handedly torpedoes a wage increase, there will be hell to pay. 

The other alternative: Keep $15 and pair it with a business tax cut. 

  • “But to ensure that the $15 wage hike officially checks off all the right boxes, progressives have another idea. They're pushing the possibility of a small business tax relief plan that could be paired with the minimum wage increase in order to alleviate any burdens on businesses required to increase their pay, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide.” (Politico)

  • President Biden is privately signaling to governors that he doesn’t think the minimum wage will survive. 

  • Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, is determined that it will. 


  • The Supreme Court rejected Donald Trump’s last-ditch effort to keep his tax records out of the hands of the Manhattan DA. “In a rambling statement in which he also repeats the falsehood that he was reelected, Trump added: ‘I will fight on, just as I have, for the last five years (even before I was successfully elected), despite all of the election crimes that were committed against me. We will win!’” (WaPo)

  • Several conservative states are passing laws with the goal of getting the Supreme Court to revisit abortion rights. (WaPo)

  • Dominion Voting Systems has sued MyPillow doofus Mike Lindell for more than $1.3 billion. LOL. (NYT)

Share PRIMER | North Carolina

2. Mark Robinson Blames “Clerical Errors” for Campaign Finance Oddities

In his campaign finance reports, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson — an anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theorist who got elected because the North Carolina Democratic Party is incompetent — reported a few things that don’t appear campaign-related: 

  • $186 for medical bills

  • $2,840 for clothes and accessories

  • $4,500 for his wife’s clothing at an undisclosed store

  • $2,400 in cash withdrawals

When the N&O asked, Robinson’s team blamed “clerical errors” that somehow escaped everyone’s notice: 

  • “‘We are aware of clerical errors related to our campaign finance reports,’ Conrad Pogorzelski, Robinson’s political consultant and spokesperson, said in an email to The News & Observer. ‘This includes a $20 cash withdrawal that was reported as a $2,400 withdrawal, the $2,000 spent at Lake Outfitters for campaign merchandise such as t-shirts and hats, and other such errors categorized or improperly reported. We are transitioning to new staff, and our team is in the process of working with the NCSBE to fix any and all mistakes, and to amend our reports to be accurate and up to date.’”

  • Sounds legit. 

  • “From Robinson’s report, [watchdog Bob] Phillips said it is unclear why Robinson needed clothing for his campaign from Lake Gaston Outfitters, a store that specializes in hiking, canoeing, and cycling gear. Phillips said he also hasn’t seen someone buy their wife clothing before.”

  • “And then there are the medical bills. ‘I have seen some leeway where people buy clothes or even get a haircut,’ Phillips said. ‘But I’ve never seen a doctor’s bill being used or paid for by a campaign contribution and listed in a campaign finance report.’”

Here’s the thing: Campaign finance spending law is so broad as to be nearly meaningless. 

  • “North Carolina law allows campaign funds to be spent solely for nine purposes. The first two include expenses resulting from the campaign by the candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee, and expenses resulting from holding a public office.”

  • But Hall also found problems with how Robinson raised money, including donations from “unknown” donors and from PACs that aren’t registered in North Carolina — both of which are no-nos.  


  • The State Auditor’s Office says the Department of Health and Human Services allowed doctors whose licenses had been suspended, restricted, or revoked to continued treating patients and billing Medicaid for their services. (WRAL)


3. Wake Commissioner Wants to Ban Hair Discrimination

This is a case-in-point for why representation matters: Newly elected Wake County Commissioner Shinica Thomas has asked that hairstyle be added to the nondiscrimination ordinance that covers county employees, following the leads of Durham, Greensboro, and a few other North Carolina municipalities. 

  • Thomas: “There is discrimination based on hair in employment practices, in hiring practices, in promotions, even profiling. And it’s not just women. All Black people. All African-American people who wear natural hair whether that’s dreads or afros, braids or twists, however, your hair grows naturally out of your head.” (N&O)

  • “The movement has picked up steam with efforts on the national and state level to pass the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural-Hair. It can be time-consuming for Black women and men to make their hair ‘acceptable’ and conform to Eurocentric norms, [Thomas] said, adding it can also cost a significant amount of money and damage people’s hair.”

  • Raleigh City Council member Storme Forte has also asked the city attorney to look into the issue. 

  • Durham and Carrboro included hair discrimination in the nondiscrimination ordinances they passed earlier this year that also protect LGBTQ people. Wake County and Raleigh’s ordinances only cover government workers and contractors. 


  • Residents of Garden Terrace Apartments in Durham’s Lakewood neighborhood protested in front of the property owner’s house on Sunday, demanding fair rent, repairs (the city recently found more than 100 code violations), and a guarantee that they won’t be forced out. (CBS 17

  • USA Gymnastics suspended Durham coach Stephen Maness from contact with USA Gymnastics-associated athletes after he was arrested on charges of sexual battery with girls under the age of 16. (WRAL)

4. Two Durham Restaurants Forced Out

I was picking up coffee at the Joe Van Gogh on Broad Street yesterday when I noticed some movers loading tables and chairs from Durham mainstay The Palace International into a yellow Penske truck. As it turns out, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook, they’d been the victim of landlord shenanigans

Unfortunately, after 14 years at our Broad Street location, we found out two weeks ago that our landlord has decided not to renew our lease. We were unable to negotiate a lease extension, giving us only 30 days to move out. Although we're sad to be losing the space we've called home for so long, we are hopeful that this is the beginning of a new chapter. We are currently looking for a new space to continue serving our dear community. 

This abrupt announcement is both disheartening and uncomfortable after working so hard and succeeding in staying open during COVID, paying bills, and supporting our staff through so many obstacles. 

We have every intention to reopen The Palace and to pick up where we've left off. We look forward to serving you as soon as we can. With immense love and admiration, 

The Palace family.

Over in Brightleaf Square, El Rodeo’s landlord got the brilliant idea to jack up the rent during a pandemic, which, as we all know, has been just gangbusters for restaurants. So after 32 years, El Rodeo is also closing there and looking for a new home. 

  • “The closing leaves Brightleaf Square, once one of Durham’s busiest restaurant districts, now home to only one restaurant and an ice cream parlor along its pedestrian mall. In recent years, three prominent blocks of Brightleaf have been purchased in pieces by Charlotte-based Asana Partners, a group specializing in redeveloping urban properties. Asana Partners did not respond to a message requesting comment.” 

  • “El Rodeo’s departure follows years of closing restaurants in Brightleaf, including popular Duke hangout Satisfaction, Italian restaurant Trattoria Salve, fondue restaurant The Little Dipper, and Mount Fuji Japanese restaurant. Across the street, major retail shops Morgan Imports closed and Parker & Otis moved locations. The restaurant exodus leaves Clouds Brewing and Sugar Koi ice cream shop as the remaining Brightleaf Square restaurants.” (N&O)


  • For all of you Wegmans freaks — I know you’re out there — the Chapel Hill store opens tomorrow. The line has probably already formed. (ABC 11)

  • Cary’s excellent La Farm bakery has set up a pop-up in Fuquay-Varina (1900 Broad Street) for the next three months. (TBJ, subscription)