Sunday, July 21, 2013

US Airways' contribution$ to the Charlotte airport grab

The sudden and fierce determination of North Carolina Republicans to snatch the seemingly well-functioning Charlotte airport away from the city of Charlotte has been something of a head-scratcher.

However, a detailed story by the Charlotte Observer helps to fill in the background.
In early 2012, an executive with US Airways, the airport’s largest tenant, had a tense meeting with then-City Manager Curt Walton over how much say the airline would have over (Charlotte Aiport Aviation Director Jerry) Orr’s eventual successor.

Planning consultant Michael Gallis, who has worked with Orr, heard about the tensions and raised concerns with Stan Campbell, a former member of the City Council and Airport Advisory Committee. At the same time, developer Johnny Harris was warning of the politicization of the airport by city leaders he saw as “paralyzed” over a dispute about building a streetcar. US Airways forwarded a draft of possible authority legislation to Campbell. In December, Campbell approached Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican.

But the prospect of an authority only became public in February, shortly before Rucho filed legislation. He said lawmakers and still-unidentified business leaders thought the city was about to stop managing the airport “wisely.”
Got that? US Airways--an out-of-state corporation--wrote draft legislation to change Charlotte's airport authority. That draft was passed to Sen. Bob Rucho who then submitted legislation to carry out US Airways' bidding.

But draft legislation wasn't US Airways' only contribution to the airport grab (or to Sen. Rucho).

US Airways' political action committee followed up the delivery of the draft legislation in December with a $1,000 contribution to Sen. Rucho and $8,000 in contributions to other North Carolina politicians. Senator Rucho's campaign finance report indicates that his committee received the check on January 30, 2013.

Two weeks later on February 13 (time enough for the check to clear, you never know given the sorry financial state of air carriers), Sen. Rucho filed the authority-change legislation in the Senate. Sen. Tom Apodaca, who was also the recipient of a $1,000 contribution in January, was a co-sponsor on the legislation. Rep. Bill Brawley, who was a primary sponsor of a companion House bill, received $500.

Previous to its contributions in January, US Airways had not taken an especially big interest in North Carolina elections. In 2012 (an election year), its PAC only reported $1,000 in contributions. Similarly, the PAC appears to have only made $1,000 in contributions in 2011. However, with draft legislation under review by Sen. Rucho, its contributions in a non-election year jumped to $9,000.

The suspect timing and unusually generous size of the contributions strongly suggest a quid pro quo. They also suggest that a criminal investigation may be in order.

NC politicians have taken dim view in recent years toward tenants' rights, but maybe some well-timed contributions from Charlotte airport's largest tenant are changing that.