Easley to be called as witness in campaign finance hearing
Posted October 28, 2009
Raleigh, N.C. — The State Board of Elections plans to call former Gov. Mike Easley to the witness stand Wednesday morning during a hearing into his campaign finances.
It's unclear whether Easley will testify, but he will have to show up after skipping the first days of the historic hearing. He is the first sitting or former governor in North Carolina to face a campaign finance inquiry.
Over the past two days, contributors and former aides leveled a number of allegations against Easley and his campaign:
- He took dozens of flights on a private plane while on the campaign trail that were never paid for.
- He told a friend to bill his campaign for repairs to his Raleigh home but label the expenses as campaign travel.
- Campaign staffers told large donors that they could funnel extra money to Easley's re-election bid by giving to the state Democratic Party.
- No one tracked campaign contributions and expenditures to ensure that everything was legal.
Tommy Hicks, a Wilmington lawyer who's representing Easley at the hearing, has denied that the former governor told anyone to file fraudulent invoices for the home repairs. Hicks also argued that flights weren't paid for because the campaign was never billed for them.
Jim Cooney, a Charlotte lawyer representing the Democratic Party, contended that donations to the party were simply to meet pledges Easley made to raise money for the state party for use in other elections.
If Easley decides to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights and not testify Wednesday, he will have to sign a statement to that effect before the elections board.
The elections board could take no action or issue a fine or reprimand in the case. The board's findings also could be turned over to the Wake County District Attorney's Office for possible criminal prosecution.
An FBI agent has been sitting in on the elections board hearing to gather information that could be used in a federal investigation. Easley's campaign finances are part of a grand jury probe into his dealings with friends and contributors while in office.
WRAL News will provide live coverage of the hearing, along with expert analysis, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on WRAL.com, WRAL Mobile, over-the-air channel 50.3 and Time Warner Cable channel 252. If Easley testifies, the hearing also will air on WRAL-TV.