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Government ethics groups protest ‘dark money’ bill to open NC elections to more anonymous spending

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Government ethics groups protest ‘dark money’ bill to open NC elections to more anonymous spending


As state lawmakers prepare to pass a bill allowing corporations and anonymous donors to more directly fund individual politicians in North Carolina, advocates for government ethics and transparency flocked to the state legislature Thursday to denounce the changes.

Under current state law, politicians must disclose who’s giving their campaigns money. They can’t take money from corporations at all. And they can only take a maximum of $6,400 from individual people and political groups.

But now, critics say the changes North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders are proposing would create a massive loophole: Allowing for unlimited amounts of untraceable “dark money” to flow into politicians’ campaigns, by using state political parties as the middleman, and without the public being able to see who’s behind it.

“The ability to oversee and understand who’s influencing our elections is really diminished by this policy,” said Ann Webb of the government ethics reform group Common Cause North Carolina.

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The state Senate voted to approve the changes last week, prompting all the chamber’s Democratic members to skip the vote in protest. The state House plans to vote on approving the changes Tuesday afternoon.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper could veto the bill — on Tuesday Cooper’s office told WRAL that “political donations should be more transparent, not less” — but Republicans have enough votes in the legislature to override Cooper’s vetoes, and they have done so every time this session.

Republican leaders say the change will level the playing field in the race for governor, to replace the term-limited Cooper.

The latest campaign finance records show Democratic nominee Josh Stein had raised $19.1 million as of February, with $12.7 million left to spend.

Republican nominee Mark Robinson was millions of dollars behind, having raised $10.7 million in that same period, with $4.5 million left to spend.

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Super PACs spending millions

While North Carolina’s current campaign finance laws mostly set strict limits on how much money politicians can take from a single source, there are limited exceptions: They can personally loan their own campaigns as much money as they want, and political parties can also give candidates as much as they want.

The new changes to state law would loosen up the rules for state political parties, allowing them to now take money from a type of federal political action committee commonly called Super PACs.

Unlike individual politicians or political parties, Super PACs can keep their donors secret. They can also receive unlimited amounts of funding, including from otherwise banned sources such as labor unions and corporations. For that reason, Super PACs haven’t been allowed to donate money directly to politicians or political parties in North Carolina.

Democrats say the changes are clearly intended to let corporations and others give anonymously to Robinson’s campaign, by giving their money to Super PACs which could then route it through the NCGOP to Robinson.

A Robinson campaign spokesman declined to comment. House Speaker Tim Moore confirmed last week the changes are aimed at the governor’s race, although he said he hadn’t personally spoken with Robinson about it.

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“The way the rules have been interpreted seemed to give a balance in favor of the way the Democrats did it,” Moore said.

That’s a reference to a 2020 memo from the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which indicated that a major national Democratic group had taken the necessary extra steps to keep its funds separate depending on where the money came from — which allowed it to send some of its money to the state Democratic Party without breaking state laws.

A similar Republican group had not taken the same steps to be allowed to legally give to the North Carolina Republican Party; GOP leaders say that’s why the law needs to be changed.

“What we’re seeking to do is to level the playing field,” Moore said.

Tied to bill targeting protesters

The campaign finance changes have received further criticism for the way they’ve passed through the legislature, with limited debated and tacked onto an unrelated bill targeting protesters.

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Republican lawmakers initially proposed banning people from wearing masks in public for health reasons, saying they believe protesters have taken advantage of that rule, and Covid-era norms on mask-wearing, to hide their identities at demonstrations. Banning masks would make it easier for police to search, detain and potentially arrest people for wearing masks that hide part of their faces, the proposal’s supporters and critics all said.

But after that proposal received widespread backlash, including from fellow GOP lawmakers, legislative leaders agreed to a compromise that would allow people to still wear masks in public to stop the spread of diseases, but clarified that it has to be a medical-grade mask.

The bill will also increase criminal penalties for protesters who block a road, and allow civil lawsuits against the organizers of protests that end up blocking a road, even if the organizer wasn’t personally present.

“Protesting is a part of democracy,” said Dawn Blagrove, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who leads the group Emancipate North Carolina. “To chill the right to protest is a surefire sign that you are afraid of the people. And when you are afraid of the people you are afraid of their power.”



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North Carolina

Whataburger sues North Carolina-based chain over name

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Whataburger sues North Carolina-based chain over name


(WGHP) — A Texas-based fast food chain that has plans to expand into North Carolina is suing a locally-based restaurant after they say it violated terms of an agreement that allowed them to use similar names.

A lawsuit was filed in court on Tuesday, where Whatabrands, LLC., the parent company of Whataburger, alleged trademark infringement and the violation of a contract against What-A-Burger #13, a small chain of restaurants with locations in Mount Pleasant and Locust.

Whataburger, which plans to expand into North Carolina and announced a Charlotte location made in April 2024, was founded in 1950 in Texas. The North Carolina What-A-Burger #13 advertises having been operational since 1969, nearly two decades later.

“Local news outlets in North Carolina began speculating as early as 2022 about Whataburger’s potential expansion into the state,” according to the suit.

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“Whataburger contacted certain of Defendants on October 13, 2022, in anticipation of its entry into North Carolina to notify them that continued use of their What-A-Burger #13 Mark creates a likelihood of confusion and thus infringes the WHATABURGER Mark given Whataburger’s nationwide priority in its WHATABURGER Mark as of 1957,” the lawsuit states.

They go on to say that they signed a coexistence agreement with What-A-Burger #13, allowing them both to operate under certain conditions to minimize confusion between the two brands. This agreement was effective May 19, 2023, according to the documents.

“Per the Agreement, Signatory Defendants could use the What-A-Burger #13 Mark only in connection with their existing brick-and-mortar locations (identified above) and in connection with their then-existing single food truck in limited ways.”

Now, Whataburger says that the owner of What-A-Burger #13 created a new Norwood-based LLC, WAB #13, before the agreement went into effect and did not tell Whataburger about it. The What-A-Burger owner reportedly characterized the new LLC as “part of a single ‘small, family owned, fast paced business’ founded in 1969,” like the other What-A-Burger #13 restaurants.

The Texas restaurant chain has accused the North Carolina owner of breaching their agreement by using the What-A-Burger #13 Mark with their food trucks “in ways that were not allowed under the Agreement.” Despite contact with the defendants over alleged breaches in their previously signed agreement, Whataburger claims that What-A-Burger #13 continues to operate in a way that violates the agreement.

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Whataburger claims that this alleged violation automatically terminates their agreement with What-A-Burger #13 and is now asking the court to order that What-A-Burger #13 stop using the name.

“Defendants’ unauthorized use of the What-A-Burger #13 Mark is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, or to deceive customers and potential customers of the parties as to some affiliation, connection, or association of Defendants’ business with Whataburger, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of Defendants’ goods or services,” the lawsuit alleges, going on to say that the continued use of the mark, “removes from Whataburger the ability to control the nature and quality of products and services provided.”

“Unless these acts by Defendants are restrained by this Court, they will continue, and they will continue to cause irreparable harm to Whataburger and to the public for which there is no adequate remedy at law.”

Not the first time

Whataburger also filed a similar lawsuit against a restaurant in Virginia using the name What-a-burger in 2003.

The suit, accessed through web archive, was brought up against What-A-Burger of Virginia, Inc. and What-A-Burger of Newport News, Inc. It was ruled that the companies were unaware of the other’s existence when they were founded, and the originals founders were dead by the time the suit was brought up in court.

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The court ruled in 2004 that “no actionable damages had occurred” and “There is no evidence — nor can we imagine any — that consumers are currently likely to be confused about whether the burgers served by Virginia W-A-B come from Texas or Virginia.”



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Court OKs eviction after squatters refuse to leave North Carolina Airbnb, post no trespassing sign

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Court OKs eviction after squatters refuse to leave North Carolina Airbnb, post no trespassing sign


DURHAM, N.C. — A court magistrate has ordered squatters at a Durham, North Carolina Airbnb to leave. But it’s not over yet – they have over a week to appeal the decision.

The Airbnb host, Farzana Rahman, had to take the guests to court to try and get them out.

“I want them out. I don’t know if they have vandalized the place or not, no idea. We will only find out when they leave,” she said.

Thursday, a Durham County magistrate heard Rahman’s case for a summary ejectment. The Airbnb guests did not show up in court. The magistrate did grant Rahman a summary ejectment, but that doesn’t mean the guests will be evicted right away. They still have 10 days to appeal.

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“Good that I was granted the eviction, but the fact that I have to wait 10 more days to get them out is a little frustrating,” Rahman said.

Earlier this month, Rahman reached out to Troubleshooter Diane Wilson with our sister station, ABC11 in Raleigh when her Airbnb guests did not check out of her rental on May 24.

The reservation details show the guests booked a stay at Rahman’s rental starting Oct. 25. The guests paid through Airbnb monthly and were scheduled to checkout May 24 the following year.

When Rahman’s cleaning lady went to clean the rental property, she found a shocking discovery.

“They answered the door and they said, ‘No, we haven’t moved out.’ She said, ‘Should I come tomorrow?’ And they said, ‘No, don’t come back,’” Rahman said.

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After the May 24 deadline came and went, Rahman called the police. In a video Rahman recorded, you can hear a person staying at the rental tell police they will leave. The man inside the rental said: “I assure you we will be gone in the morning. If they can just give us until the morning, that’s all I’m asking for, so we can get our stuff and we can go.”

The next morning, the guests weren’t gone. Instead, they put up a handwritten “no trespassing” sign on the front door.

A months-long Airbnb rental has become a nightmare for the host, because the renters refuse to leave.

“We will vacate the property when you file the proper paperwork with the civil magistrate for an eviction, for we are legal residents of this home,” the sign read.

Wilson tried to talk to the Airbnb guests, but they did not answer the door or return her calls. Wilson eventually got an email from them stating they were the tenant and had all communications records and receipts.

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The email said they only asked that the homeowner communicated with them to give them keys. They claim they were overcharged, had no cleaning and messaged Rahman more than 100 times without receiving a response. They also claimed their checkout date was June 24 not May 24.

Rahman said none of that is true.

“Nothing that they have said they’ve done, so I have no grounds to believe they will leave,” she said.

Rahman said before ABC11’s investigation, Airbnb was not offering any help. But following ABC11’s involvement, Rahman shared with Wilson new messages from Airbnb.

The company stated it was working with the AirCover team regarding damages, additional cleaning and payment for the additional nights the guests stayed past their checkout date.

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Rahman reiterated that none of this happened from Airbnb until ABC11 got involved. After ABC11 contacted Airbnb several times over the past couple days, the company finally provided the station with a statement Thursday afternoon.

“Issues like this are very rare on Airbnb and our team is continuing to work with our host to provide support,” the statement read.

As for Rahman, she must wait until June 25 to see if the guests file an appeal with the court. If they don’t, she can file a writ of possession to have authorities remove the Airbnb guests from her property.

But again, the guests have texted Wilson that they will be out by June 24. They also claimed they would email Wilson proof of their issues and the agreement they have to stay at the property, but they have not done that.

Copyright © 2024 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.

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NC school system may have violated state law, school policies while cleaning mold, state senator says

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NC school system may have violated state law, school policies while cleaning mold, state senator says


GRAHAM, N.C. (WGHP) — The Alamance-Burlington School System may have violated state law and ABSS school policies when dealing with mold in schools last year, according to a letter from the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations to North Carolina state Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance).

In a statement, Galey said:

“It is absolutely critical that school boards ask lots of questions and make sure that laws, policies, and procedures are being appropriately followed, even in challenging times. Solutions to operational challenges such as mold and budget shortfalls cannot get a rubber-stamp from the school board, which is elected to hold administrators accountable.

“ABSS has new administrative leadership and an interim superintendent. It is important that we reflect on the events and lessons of the last few years and build relationships, improve practice, and resist the impulse to attack or assign blame. Each member of the school community, including not only the school board but also the Alamance County commission, has the opportunity to renew its commitment to improving outcomes for children in Alamance County.”

According to the letter released by Galey’s office on Wednesday, the state senator had requested that the commission review “some of the well-publicized issues involving the Alamance-Burlington School System.”

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The commission told Galey that it had contacted ABSS and “raised concerns that state statutes and ABSS board policies may not have been followed.” ABSS reportedly justified its decisions by citing “the emergent need of mold remediation.”

The commission found that the school board did not provide reasons for its choice of companies to perform mold remediation work and did not provide evidence that ABSS made its selection “after careful pricing,” potentially violating ABSS Policy 6450 which addresses how the district can purchase services. Additionally, the board may have violated ABSS policies 6420 Contracts with the Board and 6421 Preaudit and Disbursement Certifications.

The district may have also violated North Carolina General Statutes, including G.S. 115C-31, known as The School Budget and Fiscal Control Act, and G.S. 115-441, which addresses required preaudit certification.

The commission looked into the district’s 2022-2023 budget and found that the district had reportedly spent more than $4 million more than it had appropriated in its General Fund, Other Special Revenue Fund and Capital Outlay Fund.

“The primary issue here is the exposure to undue liability when … the [Board of Education] and ABSS are in a financially precarious situation,” the commission said.

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