Since 2019, an influx of former political staffers have taken roles and consulting engagements within the UNC System. Jim Blaine, who was appointed to the UNC Board of Visitors in 2018, is one of these individuals. Blaine served as Chief of Staff for Senator Phil Berger from 2011 to 2018. Prior to that, he was a director of the Republican State Senate Caucus, and led the 2010 campaign effort to put Republicans in control of the North Carolina Senate. With such a deeply political background, why has he been retained by the supposedly independent UNC system as a consultant for $15,000 per month, plus expenses, to provide “policy advice” and work on “special projects”?
The Differentiators, a political consulting firm launched in 2019 by Blaine and his business partner Ray Martin—also a former top Berger staffer—provide policy analysis, political intelligence, and advertising to their clients (which now includes the UNC system). First brought on during the university system’s presidential search in 2019-2020, Martin and Blaine are able to influence policies and practices of the UNC System and Board of Governors. According to a past invoice, Blaine and Martin worked a total of 23 hours during the month of July for their $15,000 consulting fee ($652 per hour).
Blaine and Martin were the last of the expensive and politically connected advisers brought on during the search for a new university system president. However, they are not the only ones. President Peter Hans’ staff includes three former chiefs of staff to republican General Assembly leaders — Bart Goodson and Andrew Tripp. (Andrew Tripp was Jim Blaine’s replacement in Phil Berger’s office.) Hans is also advised by an amalgamation of lobbyists.
Jim Blaine is a UNC Chapel Hill alumnus. He remarks on his own consulting website that the University gave him a diploma after six years with an agreement “that he not return.” As of the publishing of this post we have no information on why Blaine was asked not to return to UNC, nor why he decided to return. What is clear is that, as a political operative, he is associated with the UNC system at a time when many of the embarrassing and headline grabbing incidences have occurred. Maybe it is just a coincidence that Blaine is a policy advisor and consultant to the UNC System at a time of such turmoil. With his ties to Senator Phil Berger, a hefty consulting fee of $652 per hour (plus expenses), and a contract that can be extended for as long as 10 years, the people of North Carolina deserve more transparency on his activities and how his advice is influencing UNC System policy and the actions of UNC System leaders.