ROCKINGHAM — In her 20-year tenure, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said she’s worked to streamline the business incorporation process and make her office a nationwide leader in stemming the flow of counterfeit goods.
Marshall visited the Richmond County Judicial Center on Friday during her U.S. 74 commute between campaign stops in Columbus and Union counties. In a meeting with Clerk of Superior Court Vickie Daniel, she rattled off a record of accomplishments and stressed the need for continuity.
“The secretary of state’s office is in very good shape,” Marshall said. “I certainly hope people are not seeing a reason to make a change.”
A Democrat who has held office since 1996, Marshall faces a Nov. 8 challenge from Republican nominee Michael LaPaglia, an entrepreneur who describes himself as a “limited government free-enterprise advocate.”
Marshall said she’s a champion of both business and consumers, a leader who’s brought high-tech upgrades to state filings and worked to fight fraud, scams and trademark infringement.
“We have the best reputation in the country — we are the only state doing anything to stop counterfeiting,” she said.
Marshall employs state law enforcement officers who investigate the manufacture, import and sale of knock-off designer goods. Counterfeit wares shortchange companies that have invested millions to build their brands, she said, the money funds organized crime and consumers are left with cheap imitators of designer shoes, clothing and accessories.
“It absolutely is not harmless,” she said, “because what’s behind this is traffickers in humans and drugs. You’re supporting bad guys, maybe not necessarily the guy on the streetcorner or at the flea market, but the people profiting.”
Incorporated companies are required to register with the N.C. Office of the Secretary of State and provide articles of incorporation, charters and annual reports. The documents are scanned and digitized, and as state law defines them as public records, they can be viewed for free on a searchable state website.
“We are very transparent,” Marshall said. “My philosophy is as long as there is breath in my body, the public will have access to it for free.”
Marshall said her office has also worked with North Carolina registers of deeds to enable digital transfer of corporate records, preventing snail-mail delays.
The secretary of state serves on the nine-member Council of State, which advises the governor and votes on borrowing funds and selling state property. Its executives are elected individually, and Marshall said she works well with her peers and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
Six current Council of State members are Democrats. Marshall said the panel can look past partisan politics.
“There has not been any real tension,” she said. “We sometimes have dissenting votes, but we don’t poke each other in the eye. We’re a collegial group.”
Marshall said she has a track record of getting along with Republican and Democratic governors.
“Every governor has been helpful to the secretary of state’s office,” she said, noting that the state executive is the source of her office’s budget. “None of them have been as helpful as I have wanted them to be.”
While she avoids many partisan feuds, Marshall said her daily discussions with corporate leaders underscore the damage House Bill 2 is doing to North Carolina’s business climate.
The law requires transgender people to use the restroom matching their birth gender and takes away nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender workers. It’s sparked a backlash, with more than 160 companies calling for its repeal and some vowing to divert jobs, conferences and sporting events away from the Tar Heel State.
“Without making a comment on HB2, it’s an economic sucking sound,” she said.
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @corey_friedman.