Wake County District Attorney’s Race: SEANC Mailer

Politics ain’t beanbag,” as is clear from the latest in the Wake County District Attorney race. My prediction that Lorrin Freeman would enjoy the support of the Democratic Party establishment has turned out to be incorrect in at least one major respect.

One of the most powerful labor unions in North Carolina – the State Employees Association of North Carolina, a local of the Service Employees International Union (usually a stalwart supporter of the Democratic Party) – has come out with a mailer blasting Democrat Lorrin Freeman. This following the union’s endorsement in March of her primary opponent Boz Zellinger. SEANC represents the 160 employees (who are among the 55,000 claimed members of SEANC) who report to Freeman in her current role as Clerk of Court.

Apparently, however, hardly any of the county’s clerks were consulted before SEANC’s political action committee endorsed Freeman’s opponent Boz Zellinger in March. In fact, my understanding is that virtually none of the 55,000 other members of SEANC expressed an opinion about SEANC’s decision to endorse a candidate in the Democratic DA primary race. EMPAC endorsements are apparently made by a committee of 18 SEANC members.

SEANC has also not endorsed any primary candidates in 2014 District Attorney races in District 1, District 6, District 9, District 13, District 14, District 15A, District 17A, District 20A, District 24, District 25, District 27B, District 28.

In fact, Wake County is the only judicial district in which SEANC has endorsed a District Attorney candidate this year thus far.

The decision by SEANC’s political action committee EMPAC to endorse Zellinger in March and to send out a mailer this month attacking Freeman may have something to do with Freeman’s decision to criticize SEANC over a program it sponsored for its members in which members could purchase items through a financing scheme outsourced to an Atlanta, Georgia company.

According to SEANC’s executive director, Dana Cope, the program, called Purchasing Power, is “primarily for those folks who are members of the State Employees Association who have really bad credit or no credit or are in a bankruptcy situation” and allows SEANC members to purchase items – such as consumer electronics – on a payment plan with payments deducted from the employee’s paycheck.

The problem according to a WRAL report is that state employees can pay more than double the retail costs of certain items, such as tablet computers, HDTVs when the cost of financing is factored in.

Freeman WRAL ImageIn December, Freeman, who as Clerk of Court in Wake County oversees 160 state employees, said that while SEANC does “some great things on behalf of advocating for state employees,” “[t]he thing that really concerns me about the program is that it is suggested that, if you go to the state employees association website, that it’s a program in which you can save. If you look at the prices of items in the pamphlets that are sent to all of us as members, clearly it’s not. Many of the prices are well in excess of what I could walk into a store and buy these products for.”

It’s unclear how many homes received the SEANC mailer attacking Freeman, but the mailer appears to be a shot across the bow. The photograph on the mailer that depicts Freeman appears to be the same photograph (see left) as was used on WRAL’s website in the story in which Freeman criticized SEANC.

SEANC poured $1.1 million into Democratic Party races in the final month of the 2008 general elections to help Bev Perdue and Democrats win election. The decision by the union in 2010 to sit out state races was seen as a sign of displeasure with Democrats. The relationship between the Democratic Party and SEANC over the past several years has been fraught.

UPDATE: While Purchasing Power, the Atlanta-based company that runs the program advertised by SEANC for its members, has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, it has had more than 400 Better Business Bureau complaints in the last three years, including 157 in the last 12 months.


Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.