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Report: Friend, donor to NC insurance commissioner earned $84,000 a year as his personal driver

Mike Causey met with people at an event in Kernersville recognizing 100 years of the Kernersville Fire Rescue in November 2023.
North Carolina Department of Insurance
Mike Causey met with people at an event in Kernersville recognizing 100 years of the Kernersville Fire Rescue in November 2023.

How did a friend and political donor to Republican Commissioner Mike Causey land a job as Causey's personal driver earning up to $84,000 a year? It's an unusual employment arrangement that's raising questions.

An investigation by The News & Observer found the driver also had inconsistent job titles and accompanied Causey on long work trips to locations as far as New Mexico.

Reporter Dan Kane worked on the investigation alongside reporter Kyle Ingram. Kane spoke to WFAE's Nick de la Canal about their findings.

Looking into Mike Causey's personal driver
Hear from reporter Dan Kane about an investigation by The News & Observer into unusual employment arrangements at the state insurance commission.
Mike Causey met with people at an event in Kernersville recognizing 100 years of the Kernersville Fire Rescue in November 2023.

Nick de la Canal: At the center of your reporting is Causey's driver, 77-year-old Roger Blackwell. What do we know about him and his relationship with Commissioner Causey?

Dan Kane: Well, they go back quite a ways. Back in the early '90s, when Mike Causey first ran for commissioner, he was obviously looking for political support, and Roger was a Republican Party figure in Randolph County, and so they became both politically connected and they became friends.

And then when Mike Causey got elected in 2016, he's filling out his staff, and he finds this position for his friend Roger.

De la Canal: And your investigation found that Roger Blackwell was hired in 2017 as an "administrative officer." Later he was promoted to "insurance criminal investigator." His current job title is "deputy secretary/commissioner." In your reporting, did you find evidence that he performed any consulting or investigative work, or that his duties extended beyond just being a driver?

Kane: Well, the communications with the Office of State Human Resources — and that's the agency that handles this type of employment — the information they were given said nothing about the fact that what he really was doing was driving the commissioner around.

And in fact, when I interviewed the commissioner back in June, I asked about how the commissioner gets around, and at that point, he and his other staff mentioned that, well you know Roger was a part-time driver doing the driving along with another gentleman who actually had been hired that year.

But then when I started looking at the pay records, and it was a little — it wasn't exactly easy to find, because him being temporary and part-time, didn't show up in the salary database. But we did have another database that showed an hourly wage for him, which was $44 an hour, and I said, 'Boy, that seems kind of high for a driver. Let's get up with the Office of State Human Resources and find out the situation.'

And that's when I learned that, well he had that wage because he's being classified as a deputy secretary/commissioner, a title which seemed to be much higher than the role that he had.

De la Canal: You actually spoke with Blackwell who said that his job entails picking Causey up in the morning from his home in Greensboro, driving him to Raleigh each day, and also at times accompanying Causey on very long work trips — sometimes across the country.

Kane: Yeah. We saw in the commissioner's records that Roger had accompanied him to — the farthest one was Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And yes, he was largely picking him up. The commissioner's vehicle is kept at a fire station in Archdale, and he gets up, gets the car, go get the commissioner, takes him to Raleigh or wherever else, and he was doing that quite a bit, and I think that explains why in 2022, he had earned over $84,000 in that driving role.

De la Canal: How unusual is this, for a high-ranking official in state government to have their own driver in North Carolina?

Kane: It's unusual when you look across the 10-member Council of State. The governor and lieutenant governor are given security details. The Highway Patrol assigns officers to protect them.

The attorney general and one other member of the Council of State — the school superintendent — they have brought in some part-time security, but they don't use them to pick them up from their homes, drive them in to work, drive them around town.

I know in particular with the school superintendent, it's more with when she's out of the Triangle on some longer trips, and she's had some security concerns that brought that about. I mean that person is paid, I believe it's $40 an hour, but the use seems a lot more limited. My recollection is somewhere around $8,000 over nearly a year.

De la Canal: How has the Office of Human Resources responded to your reporting, and how has Commissioner Causey responded?

Kane: Well, as far as the Office of State Human Resources, I think they have some concerns. I think the head of that office, when I told him that basically, this person's job was a driver, they wanted to check this out. They wanted to see exactly what the situation is, so it sounds like they're going to do some inquiring.

The commissioner, we tried to sit down with him for an interview. We were denied. I then tried to catch him going in and out of the most recent Council of State meeting. He basically told me he didn't have much time to talk — really didn't have any time to talk with me — but I got a couple of questions in. What he said about Roger — he didn't dispute the amount of money that Roger had been paid. What he said was that Roger was worth his weight in gold.

De la Canal: Your reporting suggests there may be a pattern of Causey accommodating friends and political allies. How so?

Kane: Yeah back in November we published two stories. One about the commissioner's regional operation and how he had brought in people that he knew personally as well as people with political clout. I mean he hired his campaign manager to be one of the regional directors, and so we also started asking like, well OK, what have these people been doing in these regional director positions?

With particular regard to his campaign manager, there was very little documentation showing what she was doing.

He's moved regional offices around. Moved them from highly populated areas to, in some cases, some really smaller towns. And he's also set up those districts — two districts in particular in such a way that two regional directors who are literally just a few miles apart on Oak Island, each were still able to continue to have a regional district and serve as regional directors. That was something else that caught my attention.

And then I guess the last thing that we — the other thing that we reported on was that there was somebody else who was considering running against Mike Causey in the primary in 2016. Said he was talked out of it, and then sought to help Mike get elected, and then afterwards got a job in his administration, and ends up with this position where he's allowed to work from home, he's supposed to be doing valuations of state buildings, but very little work got done. Lot of it had to do with a software problem, but nonetheless, it was over roughly five years, he was paid a lot of money with not a lot of work product, and when I asked him about it, he basically said, well this was a 'make work' job.

WFAE reached out to Commissioner Mike Causey's office requesting a statement. A spokesperson referred the request to Causey's campaign, which did not immediately respond. The article will be updated if or when a response is received.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal