Staffers working for the Democratic governor of swing-state North Carolina have been using embargoed federal data for political advantage, putting state employees at risk of jail time, according to emails uncovered by the free-market John Locke Foundation.
Republicans jumped on the news to demand explanations from embattled Gov. Beverly Purdue, whose declining poll ratings may stymie President Barack Obama’s campaign to win the state’s crucial 15 electoral votes in November 2012.
“It appears that Governor Perdue and her staff have some secret insider-trading of government data that Perdue has attempted to manipulate for political advantage,” said a Dec. 19 statement from the director of the state’s Republican Party, Scott Laster.
Voters are entitled to know Perdue’s role in the data-sharing, he said. “What did Perdue know, and when did she know it? She owes it to the voters to come clean.”
A December poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows Perdue trailing her likely 2012 GOP challenger Pat McCrory by roughly 10 points.
Perdue has entangled herself in several controversies, including a claim in September that congressional elections should be suspended until legislators decide on a long-term budget and deficit plan.
In 2008, Obama won North Carolina by 14,000 votes.
For 2012, he’s already spending significant resource to win the state, partly because he’s expected to face steep odds in other important states, including Florida and Virginia. In November 2011, his reelection campaign helped Democrats win several offices, including the mayorship of Charlotte.
The emails uncovered by the Carolina Journal, a site operated by the John Locke Foundation, show that Purdue’s staffers were sharing numbers from the embargoed employment data prepared and released every month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The embargoed data is routinely and legally shared with the leaders of the state employment prior to its national release.
In 2004, a top BLS official said that “a person associated with developing the data that is caught releasing it or commenting on it prematurely is subject to fines and jail time.” That comment came after the foundation reported that then-Democratic Gov. Mike Easley was being briefed on the BLS data prior to its public release.
The emails released by the foundation show state officials shared several months data with Perdue’s staffers.
On August 17, two days before the embargo date, for example, Perdue’s press aide, Mark Johnson, edited a draft press release prepared by Larry Parker, the spokesman for the state’s Division of Employment Security. Shortly after, Parker pushed back against Johnson’s draft, saying “because we don’t know how many teacher [jobs were eliminated], we can’t say that in the sentence. We don’t have any data to show it.”
The Locke Foundation sought the emails after it noticed that Perdue had discussed embargoed jobs data during a public meeting in Asheville, one day prior to the data’s release.
Perdue used the embargoed data to argue that cutbacks in state employment were boosting the state’s unemployment, and increased spending on teachers would help spur employment. The teachers’ union is one of the Perdue’s leading supporters
“Governor Perdue has failed on job creation, and now it appears that her staff not only recognizes that fact, but they have done their best to spin their way out of their failed record on jobs,” Laster said.