David Powers is the former chief lobbyist for Reynolds Tobacco who now lobbies on behalf of large health care and insurance companies including Anthem and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC. Elected to the UNC BOG in 2011, Powers is the longest-serving current member of the BOG. According to his Statement of Economic Interest, Powers’ current sources of income include bonuses and stocks from RAI Services, a salary from the law firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, and a contract with Powers Strategies LLC. Powers also lobbies on behalf of controversial online sports betting companies DraftKings and FanDuel and continues to lobby for Reynolds American.
Powers worked at Reynolds Tobacco in Winston-Salem for 20 years from 1996-2008. He served as Vice President for State Government Relations at RAI Services Inc., a subsidiary of Reynolds Tobacco and he was listed as an officer for Reynolds American lobbyists as far back as 2008. In 2015 Powers was picked to lead the lobbying team for Womble Carlyle Solutions. The law firm brought on Powers to bolster its lobbying services, particularly government affairs work for companies doing business in North Carolina. As of December 2018 Powers held an ownership interest in Reynolds American, Duke Energy, and British American Tobacco.
Powers has deep conservative ties. He was previously a political appointee in George H.W. Bush’s administration as a senior intergovernmental affairs officer at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is a major donor to Republican political candidates in North Carolina. He also served on ALEC’s private enterprise board as the treasurer. An email from longtime GOP consultant and now chair of the NCGOP Michael Whatley cited fundraising help from Powers on Real Jobs NC, a Pope-backed “free-market advocacy group” that supported Republican candidates early in the 2010s and helped McCrory in his reelection bid. Powers, who has “extensive experience” in national Republican politics, was involved in the fundraising for Real Jobs NC during his tenure on the BOG.
Powers contributed significantly to prominent NC Republicans including $13,100 to Phil Berger, $2,500 to Phil Berger Jr., his son, $8,100 to House Speaker Tim Moore and additional contributions to House leadership. Powers also gave $15,000 to Former Gov. Pat McCrory. Not including Phil Berger, Jr., Powers contributed $12,000 to state judicial candidates, which is not surprising given the controversially unregulated nature of some of his lobbying clients.
Powers is the chair of the Committee on University Governance. He also served as the BOG’s liaison to WCU as part of the school’s chancellor search committee. In 2015 Powers requested former board chair John Fennebresque resign in the aftermath of his push for the resignation of UNC System President Tom Ross. He supported the hiring of Margaret Spellings, who Powers called “an excellent choice — indeed, maybe even that ‘game changer’ that we all dream of.” Later, Powers was one of the 15 members of the BOG that signed onto a “sharply-worded” letter to Board Chair Lou Bissette and Margaret Spellings for the handling of the Silent Sam issue.
Powers once suggested during tuition and fee proposals that the BOG look at a system that would set tuition according to the market conditions for each major. Powers said “I know you can’t operate the university entirely like a business,” but noted that charging a higher rate for some degrees was almost a “teaching moment” for business students.