Meredith Norris, former top political aide to North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black, urged him to call Gov. Mike Easley and push for a lottery-legislation change suggested by a lottery company executive during last year's General Assembly session, documents released Thursday show.
Black said he never made the call. Months later, state officials began investigating Norris, the executive and the company, Scientific Games, for possible lobbying law violations.
The documents were among 2,100 pages Black's office made available Thursday, one day after delivering copies to a federal grand jury that subpoenaed documents in October. The order covered 28 people, groups and topics, including passage of the lottery.
Neither Black nor anyone on his staff has been accused of a crime. Black reiterated Thursday that he has done nothing wrong and said the documents show nothing to the contrary.
"My staff and I always put the interests of the people of our great state first," Black said. "We have done nothing illegal."
Black said he and his staff combed their files to provide the documents to the grand jury and found none related to some of the 28 people and groups listed on the subpoena, such as a video poker trade group and a Raleigh topless bar.
The grand jury's investigation appeared to begin just weeks after the lottery was approved in August. Norris served as Black's unpaid political adviser and worked as a paid lobbyist. She had been working as a consultant for Scientific Games, one of the two major lottery companies in the nation. Norris helped a company executive, Alan Middleton, suggest language that ended up in the final legislation but also was included in every N.C. lottery bill since the early '90s.
She also took legislators to dinner on Scientific Games' tab.
Norris sent Black an e-mail on Aug. 20, a week before the lottery won final approval from the Senate, passing along a suggestion from Middleton, Scientific Games' chief lobbyist in the region. Middleton proposed using lottery money to leverage bond sales to build more schools. The goal was to persuade a Republican senator concerned with school construction to vote for the lottery.
"Speaker -- please see note from Alan Middleton below," Norris wrote. "This sounds like a great idea. What do you think? Can you talk to the Governor?"
Black said he did not remember when he first knew Norris was working for Scientific Games, whether it was before or after the House passed the lottery in April. It didn't matter, Black said, because he was already sold on the idea of a lottery as the only way to get more money for education.
The documents also give glimpses of conversations between Norris and Jon Black, the speaker's son.
Memos show that when Jon Black, who heads a pest control business, proposed two candidates for the state pest control board in 2002, Black's office attempted to accommodate him, in part by trying to expand the board.
At least one candidate suggested by Jon Black ultimately was appointed to the board.
Jim Black said he doesn't own any part of Black Pest Control, which was started by his father, and that he made no phone calls about board appointments. He said he supported expanding the board to balance it with more representatives from the industry, at the request of the industry's association.
A memo from his office to Jon Black about adding a seat to the board came from Norris.
"We are going to see if Sen. Basnight will agree to add another person to the Structural Pest Control Board so that we can put both of your nominees on the board. If you will, please have those two candidates send me their resumes ASAP so I will have something to substantiate it in the file."
Black said that didn't end up happening.
"We chose not to do that," Black said. "My son's a good-looking guy and Meredith Norris was trying to help him."
Gov. Mike Easley vetoed the legislation that included expanding the board.
House Speaker Jim Black's office has received a bill for $8,100 by attorney Ken Bell for work responding to grand jury subpoenas, but that figure covers work last fall. The tab for the past two months or more has not been submitted. Black has received authorization from Attorney General Roy Cooper to spend up to $30,000 in state funds to cover legal fees.