Local News

Elections Board Refers Matter To Wake County Prosecutor

Posted February 12, 2006

— The State Board of Elections group that is investigating campaign finance violations has decided to refer the matter to Wake County prosecutors to investigate campaign finances involving M. Scott Edwards and former state lawmaker Michael Decker.

The motion, which was made by Larry Leake and unanimously approved, was passed after nearly three days of testimony about possible violations of campaign finances.

The group ended its hearings that also included questioning of state House Speaker Jim Black. The group delayed making a decision about the campaign of Black. The hearings ended without investigating possible campaign finance violations involving the video poker industry.

Friday morning, a State Board of Elections investigator said that former Rep. Michael Decker and the campaign committee of House Speaker Jim Black apparently violated several campaign finance laws.

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    Investigator Kim Strach also told the board during a third day of hearings into potential campaign finance violations that the N.C. State Optometric Society's political action committee and a former head of the committee, Michael Scott Edwards, also appear to have broken the law.

    Strach told the board she believes Decker broke the law by failing to disclose $3,400 in contributions that went into his personal account or were spent for his personal use.

    She said Black's committee appears to have broken the law by accepting $5,000 in personal contributions from Edwards. That exceeds the limit of $4,000 an individual is allowed donate to a candidate in each election cycle. Strach said Edwards violated the law by making a donation that exceeded the legal limit.

    The speaker's committee also took in $27,625 from the business or corporate accounts of optometrists, Strach said. North Carolina bans candidate committees from accepting contributions from businesses.

    About $6,800 in optometrists' money came to Black as incomplete checks, which were made out to his committee after they had been donated. Strach said she believed that such checks were essentially donations from the optometrist's political action committee and illegally exceeded the state's contribution limit.

    Nearly a dozen optometrists told the board during this week's hearings that they wrote incomplete checks and sent them to Edwards. Records show the payee's name and date were often added months later when the checks were passed out to legislative candidates.

    Strach said she had never encountered a group that used a similar practice of turning over incomplete checks to their committees or to candidates. "This is the first committee that I have been aware of engaging (in) this practice," she said.

    Black defended the practice during his testimony before the board Thursday, saying the donations were a way for his colleagues to get involved in the political process.

    Black fielded questions from board members for nearly two hours. Black admitted that he had filled in the names on checks made out by his fellow optometrists. The optometrists left the payee line blank, but most of the money went to Black or his political ally Michael Decker.

    Decker, along with optometrist M. Scott Edwards, chose not to testify, pleading the Fifth Amendment. According to testimony, Decker deposited some of the money into his personal account.

    Black told WRAL he felt Decker made a mistake in doing that, but he contends the fundraising itself is a legal practice.

    "Everything we've done is within the law and if we chose to change the law, then I'll change the way I do things," Black said.

    Meredith Norris, Black's former political aide, also took the stand. She said she never saw the checks. Norris is also under investigation for violating state lobbying laws because of money she received from a lottery vendor while working for Black.

    Originally, the hearings were also going to focus on campaign contributions from the video poker industry. That issue will now be addressed in a separate hearing.

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