Transparency Limited In North Carolina Public Pension

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Part of the North Carolina public pension is invested in a company working with Credit Suisse. Credit Suisse just plead guilty to helping defraud the federal government. The State Employees Association of North Carolina wanted to make sure similar wrong doings weren't happening here, so SEANC leaders asked for copies of the contracts. What they got was blacked out page - after blacked out page.

"The treasurer won't let us have them," SEANC's Ardis Watkins said. "To accept this from companies who've admitted they stole from the government is absolutely unacceptable."

Right now State Treasurer Janet Cowell says she can withhold anything she deems a trade secret. What are trade secrets? We're talking everything for investment contracts to e-mails with money managers. Withholding is just her standard practice. There's no law allowing or preventing it.

But two proposed state bills would put her practice into law. Trade secrets would be confidential until at least five years after the contracts expire. And with some contracts lasting for 15 years, realistically, you won't see these documents for about 20 years.

"In all likelihood if that's the case, you're going to get ripped off because the same people aren't going to be around to be accountable 20 years from now," Watkins said.

The Treasurer's office declined an on-camera interview, but wrote: "This bill increases transparency ... currently that information is permanently not available as public record."

"Secret forever or secret for 20 years, it doesn't matter. It's like being a little bit pregnant. You are or you aren't," Watkins said.

The Treasurer's office also says all confidential information will still be open to the state auditor and the General Assembly. But during a recent committee meeting Wilkes County Senator Shirley Randleman says requested investment information in 2009 and

"As of today, I have never received any information," Randleman said.

Meaning even some lawmakers are kept in the dark about $87 billion dollars of public money.


After our story aired, the Treasurer's office e-mailed to ask for clarification. We still have not spoken with the Treasurer herself, but a spokesperson wrote:

"The Department of State Treasurer is carrying out the law with respect to trade secrets. We do not determine them (companies are permitted to designate some information as trade secrets), they are protected under North Carolina law and cannot release them even if we wanted to."

The reason we wrote the story the way we did (that the Treasurer decides what to withhold) is because she ultimately decides which companies to do business with and she reviews and signs-off on contracts with those businesses.

Also the Treasurer's spokesperson wanted to make it clear:

"Furthermore, Credit Suisse no longer has any relationship with the fund referenced in your story. That unit was sold to Grosvenor in January 2014."

But the Treasurer's website still has a page up as of this morning talking about a $232.3 million diversified investment with Credit Suisse.

2 Wants To Know would still love to do an on-camera interview with the Treasurer to further explain this process. We'll let you know if that happens.


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