Partisan politics tears at state elections board
Posted July 14, 2010
Updated July 15, 2010
Raleigh, N.C. — A veteran investigator with the State Board of Elections continued to defend herself Wednesday against conflict-of-interest charges from Democratic Party leaders.
WRAL News has obtained a series of letters between Kim Strach, the deputy director of campaign finance for the elections board, and John Wallace, the attorney for Gov. Beverly Perdue's campaign, regarding her investigation into campaign flights taken by 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial candidates, including Perdue.
The elections board previously declined to release the letters, which date to late April, calling it a personnel matter. When WRAL News reported Tuesday about growing tensions within the agency, Strach asked that the information be provided to the media so she could defend herself.
Strach has led investigations at the elections board for 10 years, including cases that eventually sent former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and ex-House Speaker Jim Black to prison on corruption charges. She also led a probe that resulted in fines against the Republican State Leadership Committee.
Wallace in late April raised conflict-of-interest questions about Strach’s handling of the flights investigation because her husband, Phil Strach, was legal counsel for the state Republican Party. The GOP filed a complaint against Perdue's campaign last fall, prompting the investigation.
Phil Strach has since left his position in the Republican Party.
"I do not believe that you can expect to be able to conduct an investigation initiated by the Republican Party," Wallace wrote in his April 29 letter. "I would respectfully request that, in your interest and in the interest of the State Board, you recuse yourself from this and similar matters so as not to cast doubt upon the product of your efforts or the board's efforts."
Kim Strach responded in a May 6 letter to Wallace that his allegations of bias followed closely her demands to review a notebook containing documentation about Perdue's campaign flights. Wallace initially balked at the demand, citing attorney-client privilege, but he later relented.
"I have worked my entire career at the State Board of Elections to establish a reputation for being impartial and nonpartisan," she wrote. "I have never nor would I ever compromise my reputation to benefit any candidate or political party."
Wallace reiterated his conflict-of-interest allegations in a May 19 letter, and Strach responded Wednesday with a letter that again defended her integrity and questioned Wallace's delay in turning over some records in the flights investigation.
Andrew Whalen, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, issued a statement late Wednesday saying that the party had no choice but to question Kim Strach's integrity because she refused to step back from the campaign flights investigation.
"A conflict is a conflict," Whalen said in the statement. "She’s married to the guy who may very well have participated in writing the complaint, and then she wanted to investigate it. At very best, that’s bad judgment."
The state budget included funds for the elections board to hire a campaign finance attorney and two investigators, and Bartlett said conversations have been held about Strach concentrating on campaign finance audits and compliance issues and allowing the new staff to handle some investigations.