The campaigns for both N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise and N.C. Rep. Josh Dobson had to forfeit a total of $3,000 in illegal contributions from the Pfizer Inc. Political Action Committee.

Hise and Dobson, both Republicans who represent McDowell, and numerous other state elected officials received contributions from the powerful pharmaceutical company’s PAC during the legislative sessions. Such contributions are not allowed under state law and thus had to be forfeited by the recipients, according to Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the N.C. Board of Elections.

Hise’s campaign committee received two contributions of $1,000 each from Pfizer Inc. PAC, one dated June 21, 2016 and the other dated Oct. 16, 2017. Dobson’s campaign committee received a $1,000 contribution from Pfizer PAC on Oct. 16, 2017.

Since then, both Hise and Dobson, as required, forfeited the money to the N.C. Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, which goes toward education in North Carolina.

When contacted by The McDowell News, Dobson said this more of a technicality than anything else. Pfizer’s PAC sent a contribution during a special called session and checks cannot be received while the House is in session. The check was dated Oct. 16, 2017 and the session did not end until Oct. 20, 2017, according to Dobson.

“Therefore the contribution was out of compliance by four days,” he said to The McDowell News. “If the contribution would have been made on Oct. 21, instead of Oct. 16, there would have been no issue. Nevertheless, as soon as I was made aware of the four-day discrepancy I immediately returned the contribution to the board of elections. It’s also worth noting that Pfizer made 48 similar contributions to other legislators that had to be returned.”

Hise issued the following statement to The McDowell News:

"I did not receive contributions during session. I was informed by the State Board of Elections, along with over 40 other legislators from both parties, that Pfizer cut the checks during a special session of the General Assembly. The date they were received by my campaign was a legal date. As requested, I returned the contributions to State Board of Elections."

Hise and Dobson were just two of numerous other state officials, both Democrats and Republicans, whose campaigns received improper money from Pfizer Inc. PAC. It is one of the largest campaign donation forfeitures in state history, according to a story by NC Policy Watch.

The contributions, totaling $53,500 to 36 different committees, were uncovered in a recent audit by the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. They occurred on June 21, 2016 and Oct. 16, 2017 — both days when the General Assembly was in session.

As it turned out, a majority of the donations from the pharmaceutical giant’s PAC to North Carolina campaigns in both 2016 and 2017 were given on prohibited days. The prohibited donations totaled $20,000 in 2016 and $33,500 in 2017, according to the NC Policy Watch story.

“They were all current or former North Carolina elected officials, mostly General Assembly members,” said Gannon to The McDowell News.

The contributions were mostly in increments of $500 or $1,000 with some higher dollar contributions to high level Democratic and Republican leaders. The campaigns of Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, each received $5,000 in 2017. Pfizer Inc. PAC records show a donation of $3,500 to Cooper’s Republican opponent, former Gov. Pat McCrory for the 2015-2016 period. The McCrory donation does not appear on the list of those that occurred on prohibited days. The campaigns of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, each received $1,500 in 2016 and $2,000 in 2017, according to the NC Policy Watch story.

Sharon Castillo, senior director of Pfizer’s media relations, said it was an unfortunate clerical mistake by an outside vendor.

“The checks were not sent out or received by the campaigns during the blackout period. Rather, they were dated during that time, something that is also precluded by the NC statute. We have never faced a similar situation. We take this matter very seriously, and are addressing the situation to ensure that it does not happen again,” said Castillo in the NC Policy Watch story.

“We are in discussions with (Pfizer) about the ultimate penalty,” said Gannon to The McDowell News.

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