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McCrory hires political operative to defend state in DOJ lawsuit

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Butch Bowers Jr., the attorney representing Gov. Pat McCrory in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, has donated to major Republican candidates and represented some of South Carolina's top elected officials. And the law firm where until recently, Bowers worked has ties to McCrory and Duke Energy, the governor's former employer.

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state of North Carolina, charging the elections law discriminates against minorities. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat and likely 2016 gubernatorial candidate, is charged with defending the state in legal actions. But his public disfavor for the law—Cooper has called it "regressive elections legislation" that would make it more difficult for working people to vote—prompted Gov. McCrory to hire his own counsel. Karl "Butch" Bowers, a South Carolina public policy attorney with strong GOP ties, is being paid with state funds at a rate of $360 an hour.

Ryan Tronovitch, deputy communications director for the governor's office, said Bowers' hourly fee is a discounted rate. Bowers will be paid using "state funds," Tronovitch said, without clarification.

Tronovitch would not say whether there is a cap on Bowers' pay, citing that as "privileged information."

In 2012, Bowers' firm, Hall and Bowers of Columbia, S.C., merged with the nationally recognized legal practice Womble Carlyle, which has offices in eight states, including South Carolina and North Carolina. (Bowers has since left Womble Carlyle and works independently.)

Womble Carlyle is among North Carolina's largest law firms and has some of the state's most powerful lobbyists.

Duke Energy, McCrory's former employer, is a major client of Womble Carlyle's North Carolina practice, which defended the utility when it was under investigation for the firing of CEO Bill Johnson after the Progress-Duke merger.

The firm contributed $54,000 to McCrory's gubernatorial campaign and $30,000 to his successful 2007–2008 mayoral bid in Charlotte, according to Influence Explorer.

"We're very fortunate to get Butch Bowers for this case," said Bob Stephens, the governor's chief legal counsel, at a media event on Oct. 1. "Butch Bowers has been through this battle ... he's been through the wars. He's very bright, very talented."

Bowers was a member of the Justice Department serving as Special Counsel on Voting Matters under the George W. Bush administration, according to his page on the Republican National Lawyers' Association website.

"(Bowers) knows the lawyers that signed this complaint that was filed ... He worked with them," Stephens said. "He knows how they think, and I think he's going to be a terrific asset to us."

Bowers is best known for representing South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in a state ethics investigation in 2012. Bowers defended Haley against allegations that she illegally lobbied on behalf of her former employer, Lexington Medical Center, and on behalf of an engineering firm with significant legislative interests. He argued before the South Carolina House Ethics Committee that state law permits legislators to work for organizations that employ lobbyists, and he claimed that other House Representatives also did so.

Though Haley was cleared of the charges of illegal lobbying, the South Carolina Ethics Board fined her $3,500 in July for failing to report the addresses of eight campaign donors. Haley is expected to run for re-election in 2014.

Bowers also represented South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who pleaded guilty on charges of ethics violations and paid a $48,000 fine for using campaign funds for personal business. Ard resigned in March 2012. He was sentenced to probation and community service.

According to opensecrets.org, Bowers has given thousands of dollars to South Carolina Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, both tea party mainstays. Bowers gave $1,000 to U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford's campaign in February. During his governorship, Sanford appointed Bowers to serve as a member of the State Election Commission from 2003 until 2007.

Despite Bower's political activity, Stephens claimed there is no conflict of interest in his representing the governor. "We did a complete check of all of (Bowers') clients for conflicts and other issues," Stephens said. "I'm very comfortable with that part of it."

This article appeared in print with the headline "State of disarray."

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