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Pension official called out for side gigs on company boards

Janet Cowell, Treasurer of North Carolina
Phil McCarten | Reuters
Janet Cowell, Treasurer of North Carolina

North Carolina's state treasurer was appointed to two corporate boards while holding public office, a move that watchdogs said could be a "breathtaking" conflict of interest, the International Business Times reports.

Janet Cowell is the sole fiduciary of North Carolina's $90 billion pension investments and the chair of the state's banking regulation commission, a rare concentration of power, according to the International Business Times. Meanwhile, she'll be responsible for board seats on insurance conglomerate James River Group Holdings and retail technology firm ChannelAdvisor.

Ethics experts and employee rights groups raised concerns that the combined pay from Cowell's board seats will be more than her full-time paycheck as treasurer, according to the IBT. On top of that, one of James River's largest shareholders has also managed North Carolina pension funds, and James River's CEO has ties to a North Carolina-based bank.

A spokesperson told the IBT that Treasury staff were not involved in the negotiation of either board appointment, and that Cowell would recuse herself from all decisions related to either company. Still, the International Business Times points to email exchanges between Cowell and James River's lawyers, where Cowell offers to have the state ethics commission draw up a statement that would meet the company's "needs and preferences."

Treasury spokesman Brad Young told CNBC that Cowell intends to evaluate any official actions by the standards outlined in her formal recusal. ChannelAdvisor declined to comment beyond public filings. James River did not immediately respond to CNBC's request to comment.

For the full investigation, click here to read the article at the IBTimes.com.