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Lt. Gov. Forest holds men-only Christian retreats in NC mountains

April 12th, 2018

— Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and dozens of other Christian men spent last weekend in the North Carolina mountains at an invitation-only retreat organized by Forest and his supporters.

They slept 10 to a room “like a summer camp,” according to Forest’s chief of staff and campaign manager Hal Weatherman.

The men-only “Black Mountain Weekend” is distinctive in the world of North Carolina politics, if it even belongs in that world at all. Several longtime politicos told WRAL News they were only vaguely familiar with it and had never attended, but Forest has been retreating to the mountains to recharge Christian spirits and combat cultural decline for five years.

Weatherman said this is not a political event at all but “a ministry to bring men together to worship together and grow in their faith.” It’s organized through a 501(c)(3) nonprofit created to accept the $250 fee charged to cover meals, speaker fees and two nights’ lodging.

The event has a website, but the site makes clear participation is invitation only. Weatherman said volunteers recruit attendees from around the state to create “a strong geographic reach.”

“Many of you share my concerns about the cultural decline of our country, our state and our communities,” Forest, a social conservative widely expected to run for governor in 2020, says on the website. “To combat this decline, I’m continuing to hold the annual Black Mountain Weekend. … Speakers and presenters will share their real-world experiences and lead the group in discussions on issues that confront our nation, state and communities.”

This year’s gathering was at Carolina Point in Brevard. A picture on the site shows a large conference room full of men at round tables, and Weatherman said the gathering usually draws more than 200 people.

“Our attendees are a true cross section of all walks of life,” Weatherman said in an email.

The event has traditionally been in September, but it moved to April this year and will remain in the spring going forward, Weatherman said. The website says attendees should request a roommate when registering, or one will be assigned to them, but Weatherman said accommodations were 10 to a room.

“We invite men because it is a men’s retreat,” Weatherman said. “Our lodging is not co-ed.”

He declined to name the event’s advertised guest speakers. Asked whether lobbyists and campaign donors are invited, he said he’s never reviewed the attendee list for professions or donor histories.

The 501(c)(3) that attendance fees run through is managed by Forest and three other men, including two significant Forest donors.

One is David Longo, who has given tens of thousands of dollars to Forest’s campaigns. Longo was also treasurer for a pro-Forest political action committee, and he heads up a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called the North Carolina Promotion and Development Fund, which paid to install television studio equipment in the lieutenant governor’s state office.

Steve Yager, who works in the technology sector and has been a significant donor to Forest’s campaigns over the years, is also on the Black Mountain Weekend board, according to the group’s publicly available tax forms.

No one returned a message left on the group’s listed telephone number.

About $63,000 ran through the group in 2016, according to the latest available tax form. The year before, it was about $69,000, and the expenses listed are lodging costs, speaking fees, speaker costs and venue registration.

Nothing was paid to Forest or other board members, according to the forms from 2015 and 2016.

Article source: http://www.wral.com/lt-gov-forest-holds-men-only-christian-retreats-in-nc-mountains/17482130/

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