Signs of Tim Moore’s influence aren’t hard to find.
Take U.S. 74 toward Kings Mountain and you’re greeted by a highway marker, “Welcome to Cleveland County / Home of N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore.” Up the road, bold letters identify one of the newest buildings at Cleveland Community College: “SPEAKER TIM MOORE ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY CENTER.”
Head to the courthouse in downtown Shelby. That’s where Moore’s one-time office manager works as trial administrator, a position put into last year’s state budget even though no court officials asked for it.
Step into a nearby courtroom where Moore’s former law partner and one-time campaign aide often presides. At just 29, he was appointed in 2016 to a District Court seat lawmakers had just created. Go outside where workers are clearing land at the site of a new Justice Center, for which the state pitched in $65 million. Cross the street to the county office building, where Moore moonlights as county attorney, a job that has paid him more than $530,000 since 2017.
Moore, a 52-year-old Republican, is in his record fifth term as House speaker and one of the state’s most powerful elected officials. It will be his last, marking the end of a chapter for a man who first saw the General Assembly as a teenage page and who’s spent his life immersed in politics.
What’s next is unclear. He could run for Congress, go into business, or even return to the state House, as some previous speakers have. But it’s clear that he’s ready to move on—and that even some Republicans appear ready for him to, especially after recent last-minute maneuvers on the budget.
In a body with many ideologues, Moore’s a deal-maker. Critics call him transactional, using public service to help friends and allies and even himself. But few leaders have been as consequential. Consider the current session alone.
Republicans won rollbacks on abortion access, limited transgender treatment for minors, eased gun laws, stripped the governor of many appointment powers, and made a series of election law changes that critics say are designed to benefit their party. Some of their success came after Moore helped persuade Tricia Cotham to switch parties, a move that cemented the GOP supermajority and helped override 14 of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.
However, legislators are long overdue in adopting a budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.
For Moore, the session was marred by a personal scandal, which in turn resurrected earlier stories of alleged misuse of power.
In June, former Apex elected official Scott Lassiter, a Republican, filed suit, claiming that Moore “used his position as one of the most powerful elected officials in North Carolina” to maintain a three-year affair with his wife. He alleged his wife, Jamie Liles Lassiter, executive director of the state-funded Conference of Clerks of Superior Court, hoped to ensure “favorable action” to her group and feared ending the affair could cost her job.
Moore first described the lawsuit as “baseless,” but later acknowledged an “on-again, off-again” relationship with her. Speaking in June to Charlotte’s WBTV, Moore said it was “appropriate because she was separated and I was divorced.” (Liles Lassiter said in a court document that she and her husband didn’t separate until January 11, 2023. And Moore, divorced since 2013, has shared his Kings Mountain home with partner 48-year-old Holly Wall for more than a year; Wall traveled with Moore to Ukraine earlier this year.)
Moore and Scott Lassiter agreed to a settlement in July; the details of it have not been made public.
Moore told The News & Observer that he would never trade political favors for sex. “I’m very offended by that,” he said. “It bothers me a lot. And it’s completely untrue.”
Andrew Dunn, a former aide to 2020 GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest, addressed the suit in a blog post. “It’s not a good look any way you slice it,” he wrote, “and this type of cavalier behavior inevitably catches up with you.”
In August, Democratic Rep. Terence Everitt of Wake County asked prosecutors to investigate Moore on possible charges of embezzlement and official misconduct related to the suit. He cited the fact that Liles Lassiter’s state salary jumped 50 percent, to nearly $123,000, during the three-year affair. “My concern here is the use of public tax money for personal gain,” he wrote Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.
Freeman told The N&O that there was “no basis at this point” for an investigation.
Shortly after Moore was elected speaker in 2015, I sat with him in his Kings Mountain office, not far from the Bethlehem community where he was born. A gifted politician, he was cordial and responsive then, and has continued to be over the years. Normally, he is accessible to reporters. But after initially indicating this summer that he would talk to me, he declined an interview and did not respond to written questions.
I interviewed more than 50 people for this article, including more than 20 current and former lawmakers, most of them Republicans. With Moore still in power, many were unwilling to talk on the record—but privately indicated they were ready for him to move on.
Moore has skirted ethical and legal trouble before. Both the State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI have looked into allegations that he used his elected position for personal gain. Neither agency brought charges. In the state Legislative Building, some call him “Teflon Tim.”
“He’s a very sharp attorney who knows where he can take an issue to the line and not go over the line,” said former Republican Speaker Harold Brubaker, an admirer. “Whenever you’re in the limelight you’re going to have some hiccups.”
Moore was voted “most ambitious” of Kings Mountain High’s class of 1988 and went on to Campbell University, where he joined the College Republicans and became state chair of the conservative group Students for America. He transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill after two years, where he became speaker of the Student Congress.
During the summer before his senior year, he appointed new members to the congress, which gave him enough votes to pass a resolution to end funding for the school’s Gay and Lesbian Association.
That sparked a campus firestorm, drawing criticism even from fellow campus Republicans.
Several months later, The Daily Tar Heel reported that the Young Republicans passed a resolution “prohibiting any dealings with Speaker Moore … on the grounds that he sought to solicit the aid of various members of the student congress in order to facilitate his own advancement.”
But Moore kept rising. In 1996, he was elected party chair in Cleveland County and ran for the UNC System Board of Governors. The GOP-controlled House chose Moore, making him the board’s youngest member at 26. He won election to the General Assembly in 2002 at age 32.
By the time he became speaker in 2015, the GOP’s transformation of state politics was well under way.
It started in 2010 when Republicans won control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Orchestrating changes in the House was Thom Tillis, a one-time backbencher who’d walked away from a half-million-dollar salary at IBM to help elect more Republicans. As speaker, he named Moore chair of the powerful Rules Committee and helped oversee what veteran N.C. reporter Rob Christensen called “a bigger and quicker shift to the right” than any state.
When Tillis won election to the U.S. Senate in 2014, Republicans chose Moore to replace him. The difference in style between the former corporate consultant and the small-town lawyer was stark.
With short hair and rimless glasses, Moore is affable, outgoing, and unassuming. When a constituent who’d been ill complained about her long grass a few years ago, he showed up with a lawnmower and cut it. His personality, if not his politics, initially won admirers on both sides of the aisle.
“You don’t feel like he’s talking down to you,” said former Republican Rep. Craig Horn of Union County. “He knows what he doesn’t know. He doesn’t try to fake it.”
When Moore came to the state House, Democrats were in control. One was fellow freshman Rick Glazier, who would go on to lead the progressive N.C. Justice Center.
“He was never obstructionist, never someone who would try to manipulate the process,” Glazier said. “We obviously disagreed on partisan issues. But I found him easy to deal with and he never told me anything untrue.”
Since then, the House has grown more polarized. Like the state GOP itself, which this summer censured Tillis for working with Democrats in Washington, Moore’s caucus has moved to the right.
“Moore has to be given credit for keeping a sometimes-divided caucus in the House together,” said David McLennan, a political scientist at Meredith College. But, he added, “Members have learned despite Moore’s affability not to cross him.”
Rep. Julia Howard, the General Assembly’s longest-serving Republican, learned that in 2021 when she publicly opposed a measure backed by Moore and the GOP caucus that would benefit lawmakers whose businesses received federal coronavirus relief money.
Howard raised ethical concerns. In response, Moore, who received money under the program, revoked her position as a senior chair of a major committee. Howard declined to comment for this story.
Holly Grange also found out the price of crossing the speaker.
A former GOP House member, Grange was a UNC-Wilmington trustee in 2022 and on a search committee for a new chancellor. The person she supported was not the preferred choice of Moore, who backed his former chief of staff. A month after Grange’s candidate got the job, a House bill was filed stripping her of her position on the board. It was ratified days later.
“I was removed simply because the Speaker of the House could not secure the chancellor’s position for his chosen person,” Grange wrote a university official, The Assembly reported last fall.
McLennan said that under Moore, the House often limits debates in committee and on the floor. “The legislative process has changed, it’s more rigid,” he said. “That’s part of Moore’s influence of being efficient. It’s his exercise of power. He uses his power very judiciously.”
Democrats like Rep. Marcia Morey, a former district court judge from Durham, are more pointed: “It’s like insatiable power.”
Friends of Tim
In 2017, an attorney named Jennifer Gray accepted a newly created job at North Carolina’s Department of Insurance. After nearly a decade as a Wake County prosecutor, nobody questioned her qualifications. It was how she got the job that raised eyebrows.
Gray’s resume came to the attention of department officials from just a block away—in the corner office of the House speaker, who was dating her at the time. Officials acknowledged Gray was the only person they considered for the newly created job in the department’s legal office.
Gray later moved to a higher-paying job in the department, which the House had added to that year’s budget. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey told WRAL at the time that he felt no pressure from the speaker to hire her.
Gray, who died in 2022, wasn’t the only person who’s benefited from Moore’s friendship.
Justin Brackett, Moore’s former law partner, was appointed as a district judge in 2016, just four years after passing the bar. He took a seat the General Assembly had recently created.
Kinsley Craig, Moore’s former office manager, got a nearly 20 percent bump in pay after Moore and GOP Rep. Jason Saine put in a budget measure last year that elevated her from court manager to trial court administrator in Cleveland and Gaston counties.
Other areas with trial administrators have higher volumes of cases. Asked to justify the position, Saine told The N&O, “Because I’m the budget writer and he’s the speaker. It goes into the budget for our areas and we’re able to see it through. It’s politics. I think readers would be shocked otherwise.”
One former Republican lawmaker often found surprises in the budget. “You’d be in the budget process and you’d realize there was money going to some position out of the blue,” he said. “It was a good ol’ boy game, and Tim is a good ol’ boy.”
“There have just been these repeated instances of people who appear to have favorite status just by virtue of their relationship with the speaker,” said Democratic Rep. Deb Butler of Wilmington. “And of course, that’s wrong.”
On 166 acres near Durham, a mixed-use development called 751 South is underway. When complete, it’s expected to have more than 1,300 homes, as well as shops, parks, and even a “wedding garden.”
In 2012, the project was still in the planning stage. The developer needed water and sewer lines, and twice asked the city of Durham to annex the land. Twice the city refused.
A project representative asked Moore to run a bill to force the city to provide the water and sewer lines. It failed once but passed the General Assembly a year later.
The N&O reported on the business ties between Moore and Gene Davis Jr., a Raleigh attorney who worked for the developer. It also reported that two years after the measure passed, developer Neal Hunter hired Moore for legal work.
Two years later, it said, Hunter hired him for $10,000 a month to do legal work for a Durham-based pharmaceutical company he’d recently co-founded. The company’s CEO canceled the contract after four months.
The N&O reported that Freeman, the Wake County DA, started an inquiry into Moore’s legal work for Hunter. No charges were brought. But Hunter continued to help Moore.
Bob Hall, a longtime campaign finance watchdog, said that since 2013, Hunter, two other 751 South developers, and their spouses have given Moore’s campaign $110,600.
It wasn’t Moore’s only business dealing that has come under scrutiny.
In 2013, a company he co-owned bought a bankrupt chicken processing plant in Siler City. Southeast Land Holdings LLC paid $85,000. When it went to sell the plant three years later, it first had to resolve a problem: a leaking underground storage tank.
According to news reports, Moore aide Mitch Gillespie, a former environmental regulator, went to the state Department of Environmental Quality. The department paid $22,000 toward removal of the tanks, and brought the site into a state program that offered tax and other benefits to owners of contaminated property. Southeast sold the plant for $550,000. Moore later denied knowledge of Gillespie’s action.
Ethics complaints, including two by the Washington-based watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, claimed Moore got favorable treatment. The complaints were dismissed.
In 2019, WRAL reported that Freeman said the SBI had looked into Moore’s payments from groups that had benefited from legislation and found no wrongdoing.
On the heels of Scott Lassiter’s lawsuit this spring, Axios Raleigh ran a story headlined, “NC House Speaker Tim Moore’s growing list of scandals.” They included his involvement in a bill that helped bail bondsmen and a 2015 FBI inquiry into un-itemized credit card charges on his campaign reports. (Moore amended his reports that year.)
Hall also has questioned Moore’s use of campaign money to pay the rent of his Kings Mountain office. Reports show the campaign pays $1,500 a month to rent the Kings Street bungalow. Since 2018, Hall said, that’s amounted to $60,000.
Bringing Home the Bacon
Andy Dedmon inadvertently kickstarted Moore’s House career in 2002. That’s when the Democrat who’d represented Cleveland County for three terms lost his re-election to the young Kings Mountain lawyer. Now, Dedmon said, Moore is popular with county voters of both parties.
“It’s hard to find fault with the man who brings the bacon home,” Dedmon said. “He’s probably brought the whole hog back, to tell you the truth. And people know that.”
Moore has been good to his home county. In 2021, he directed $153 million there. That included $40 million for Kings Mountain, a town of just over 11,000. In a news release, he called that year’s budget “great for ALL of North Carolina, and particularly for Cleveland County.”
While Moore has been good to Cleveland, the county has been good to him.
One day in 2015, Jason Falls, who chaired the county board and is Moore’s distant cousin, took aside longtime county attorney Bob Yelton and told him he no longer had a job. “I was blindsided,” Yelton told The Assembly. The county promptly hired Moore.
The job now pays him a $30,000 annual salary and $300 for any “additional billable hours.” Through June, that amounted to an extra $48,000 this year, according to the county. Last year it was $40,950. (Records show he attended all but one board meeting in 2022, three by teleconference.)
Moore is also attorney for the Cleveland County Water District. That pays him $30,000 a year plus $300 per billable hour. From July 2019 through this June, that amounted to more than $120,000, according to the water district. (His annual speaker’s salary is $38,151, plus $1,413 a month for expenses).
In 2018, a nonpartisan watchdog group called the Checks & Balances Project reported on the money Moore earned from his county and state jobs. That fall it hired a mobile billboard to drive around Cleveland County with a summary of its findings and a picture of a smiling Moore.
“Tim Moore gets taxpayer-funded paychecks from three different government sources that averaged … more than $201,000 a year,” the billboard said. “That’s your money.”
The Catawba Two Kings casino sits just west of Kings Mountain. Housed in temporary modular units, its hundreds of slot machines and electronic table games buzz around the clock. But a promised $273 million casino building is on hold. So are the hotels, restaurants, and economic development it was expected to attract.
That’s because last December the National Indian Gaming Commission found the Catawba tribe and its casino developer, Sky Boat NC LLC, violated regulations by not having an approved management contract.
Moore had long championed the casino for his home county. He’s worked for Wallace Cheves, owner of Sky Boat and a major GOP donor. Sky Boat’s web site once listed Moore among its “Legal Eagles.” Cheves told The Assembly that Moore no longer works for his company.
In 2014, the conservative Carolina Journal reported that Moore represented nearby landowners “in partnership with developers.” It’s unclear if Moore still represents the landowners.
For years, Moore recused himself from measures that involved gambling. That ended in May when the Legislative Ethics Committee ruled that because he no longer worked for Sky Boat, he no longer had a conflict in voting on gambling issues. In June, he voted for a bill allowing sports betting.
Moore is interested in video gaming, too. In a spacious Forsyth County courtroom this spring, Superior Court Judge Todd Burke was about to hear a case involving video sweepstakes when one lawyer spotted a familiar face.
“I turned to a colleague and said, ‘What the hell is Tim Moore doing here?’” the lawyer told The Assembly.
It’s unclear why Moore was in the courtroom where a sweepstakes company was seeking to operate despite opposition from the governor and state law enforcement agencies.
Hall, the campaign finance watchdog, told state elections officials in May that individuals in the sweepstakes and video poker industries gave $885,000 in contributions to N.C. candidates and party committees from 2019 to 2022, including $22,200 to Moore. In August, Hall reported that donors tied to the gambling and marijuana industries gave lawmakers more than $500,000 in the first six months of this year, including $12,400 to Moore.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering allowing four new casinos in the state. Casino developer The Cordish Cos. has given more than $34,000 in contributions to eight legislators and hired five lobbyists.
In the Winston-Salem video sweepstakes case, Burke ruled for the operator. The state called that “an unmistakable error” in allowing the company to ignore the state’s 2010 ban on video gaming. (The Court of Appeals stayed Burke’s order in late August until it hears the case.)
The gambling issue has held up the budget and has prompted grumbling from some Republicans about Moore’s handling of the matter. Senate leader Phil Berger strongly supports the casinos, one of which likely would be in his home county. Moore supports the casinos but said Tuesday there isn’t enough support among House Republicans to approve a budget that includes the casinos. The budget already is more than two months late, holding up pay raises and various state initiatives, including Medicaid expansion.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Several months ago, Saine said Moore told House Republicans this term would probably be his last. He made it official in July. “He doesn’t want to wear out his welcome,” Saine told The Assembly.
But for some, he may have done just that. Some Senate Republicans have long been frustrated with Moore and consider him an unreliable partner; Berger said Tuesday the “House leadership” had not lived up to its commitments on casinos. In the House, several sources told The Assembly that Republicans think the drip-drip-drip of allegations has hurt Moore.
“I’m not pointing the finger at Speaker Moore, but [his issues] have contributed to the narrative that people in public service are in it for themselves,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the nonpartisan Common Cause North Carolina, which advocates for good government. “I don’t believe that. But people in public service have a responsibility to go beyond, and make sure that their activities don’t contribute to the narrative.”
Even as a handful of Republicans jockey to replace him, Moore will still be speaker for the rest of 2023, including through a redistricting session, as well as for next year’s short session.
The man who high school classmates voted “most ambitious” has seen House Republicans grow in strength over his tenure as speaker. He can point to a train of accomplishments in advancing a conservative agenda.
But in mixing his political, business, and personal interests, he leaves a complicated legacy.
Reflective of the frequent drum of allegations about Moore is timmytales.net, a website run by Democratic operatives that says its mission is “to shine a light on Speaker Moore and all of his exploits and misadventures—one Timmy Tale at a time.”
The site features a drawing of Moore sitting on a red-cushioned, golden throne.
Correction: A paragraph referring to a separate, not-directly-related gambling measure has been removed.
Jim Morrill covered politics for The Charlotte Observer for 37 years. Follow him on Twitter @jimmorrill.