Carolina Journal, the newspaper published by my organization the John Locke Foundation, broke a major story yesterday about potentially illegal data sharing within the administration of embattled North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue, who is co-chair of the 2012 Democratic National Convention and vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
The federal government contracts with state agencies to assist in the collection and dissemination of employment data. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sensibly places an embargo on these statistics, forbidding the state contracting agencies from sharing the information until the official release date and time. Obviously, if private parties could gain access to data about unemployment rates or job changes, they could trade on the inside information. Another potential abuse, which seems to have occurred in North Carolina, is that politicians could get their hands on embargoed data and use it for political purposes.
My Carolina Journal colleagues first exposed misuse of BLS data during the previous Democratic administration of Gov. Mike Easley, who later pleaded guilty to a felony in an unrelated matter. Earlier this year, we began to suspect that Perdue was receiving embargoed information when she made a political speech before the release of the monthly data that referred to what would be contained in that release. (She actually mischaracterized what the jobs data showed, but that was an example of incompetence, not forbearance.)
Yesterday’s CJ story — which was subsequently picked up by the Drudge Report, Instapundit, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner, among others — used public records and other reporting to show a clear pattern of abuse:
Since as early as January 2011, and perhaps before then, Gov. Bev Perdue’s press office has received access to confidential employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics hours if not days before its scheduled release, quite likely in violation of federal law. The governor’s staff used its early access to massage the monthly employment press release that reported jobs data to the public.
Documents and correspondence obtained by Carolina Journal show that the Division of Employment Security, formerly known as the Employment Security Commission, sent a draft of the press release each month to Perdue’s press office. The governor’s spokesmen typically rewrote the text and added a positive spin, even if the data did not support Perdue’s talking points…
While the operation may sound like a harmless effort to add political spin to the release of jobs data, sharing confidential BLS estimates while they are protected by an embargo violates a federal law barring the early release of employment data. This is no small matter: A conviction for breaching the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 carries a fine of up to $250,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
This story is just the latest in a string of embarrassing incidents involving Governor Perdue, including her widely lampooned off-the-cuff suggestion that the 2012 congressional elections be canceled so members could make budget deals without worrying about reelection. And so far this year, four of her campaign aides or donors have been indicted for misdeeds during her 2008 bid for governor.
Welcome to North Carolina, President Obama and the DNC.