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Tillis on Janet Cowell: Competent Elected Official

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Photo from a 2012 Cowell opposition campaign.

Photo from a 2012 Cowell opposition campaign.

When NC House Speaker Thom Tillis was pressed on concerns over State Treasurer Janet Cowell’s handling of the state pension fund in 2011, the Mountain Xpress reports, “Tillis replied that State Treasurer Janet Cowell is one of the most competent elected officials he knows. Voicing his confidence in her, he said, “I don’t believe all Democrats are incompetent.””

The Speaker further expressed his confidence in Cowell last year by passing a bill to grant the Treasurer’s office more leeway in risky investment decisions.

Janet Cowell was elected to the office of State Treasurer in 2008. Questionable high-risk investments from the pension fund (such as the Facebook IPO) and accusations of pay-to-play during Cowell’s first term became a central issue for both Democrat and Republican opponents of her 2012 reelection campaign. Many North Carolina Republican Party activists expressed disappointment at party leadership for failing to devote funding to Cowell’s Republican challenger, and some wondered if Speaker Tillis’s seeming endorsement of Cowell played a role in party actions.

Earlier this week, news broke that the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) is asking the SEC to launch an investigation after a review of the pension fund concluded that one third of the total fund ($30 billion) is MIA as a result of Cowell’s use of agents removed from public reporting requirements. The SEANC’s press release asserts that Cowell’s actions have violated state law, which requires disclosure of all investment management and agent fees.

The organization further asserts that Janet Cowell has grown the “pay-for-play” relationships which have surrounded the pension system “for more than a decade,” and estimates that fees paid from the pension fund to “Wall Street money managers” are nearing $1 billion.

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