Trips to enter pleas before Wake County or federal judges for political figures such as former Gov. Mike Easley, former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and former House Speaker Jim Black – all Democrats – have started with campaign finance hearings before the state board.
One of the central features of all those hearings has been an appearance on the witness stand by Kim Westbrook Strach, the board's lead investigator. Armed with bank records, interview notes and a seemingly unshakable demeanor, Strach's testimony was key in unveiling wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, the 41-year-old mother of two will take the helm of the state's elections agency, overseeing not just investigations and campaign finance reporting but all of the state's election administrative apparatus.
Strach has a degree in criminal justice and worked as a probation and parole officer after graduating from East Carolina University. She also owned a dance and performing arts studio.
"I realized that what I loved about dance was it wasn't a business for me," Strach said.
So in 2000, she decided to put her degree back to work and applied for an opening at the State Board of Elections.
Democracy North Carolina director Bob Hall filed a complaint about contributions from certain sweepstakes industry figures, but the industry's donations had caught the attention of the board earlier than the formal complaint.
"We were looking into certain aspects of what his complaint addressed before he filed it, and it was because of some media articles about the different ways one of the particular sweepstakes operators, Chase Burns, had been disclosed on reports. Because they were disclosed in a couple of interesting ways, we started looking into that – was there something that would be suspicious of – whether or not there would be any impermissible contributions."
In particular, contributions from businesses to state level campaigns are not allowed.
Hall's complaint extended the inquiry, Strach said. For example, it asks whether someone other than the person who wrote the checks completed the "payee" lines without explicit authorization from the donor, something that used to be common practice for big industries trying to make a big impact by bundling a lot of checks together but is problematic under current law.
"That's a part of his complaint we are in the process of looking into, and he also has some concerns as to whether there was impermissible bundling by lobbyists, and that's something we're looking into," Strach said. Registered lobbyists are not allowed to make or bundle campaign contributions to state-level politicians.
Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.