Local Politics

Review of Campaign Reports Shows $119,000 Missing

Posted March 30, 2007 5:51 p.m. EDT
Updated March 30, 2007 6:45 p.m. EDT

— A state lawmaker under investigation by for campaign finance irregularities might have to account for as much as $119,000 in contributions not reported to state elections officials.

The state Board of Elections began looking into allegations that state Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, tried to hide contributions from landfill developers. The probe turned into a criminal investigation three weeks ago after state officials said Wright wasn't forthcoming with answers to their questions.

The elections board has subpoenaed Wright's bank records to try to determine if contributions were returned, illegally pocketed or just recorded incorrectly.

Wright couldn't be reached for comment Friday, but his attorney said he is cooperating with the State Board of Elections.

Wright, who has stepped down from his House committee leadership positions because of the investigation, has said previously that special interest groups are trying to destroy him.

Mark Shreiner, a reporter with the Wilmington Star-News, recently pored over Wright's campaign finance reports and compared them to reports filed by lobbyists who said they gave money to the lawmaker. He found more than $119,000 unaccounted for since 1992.

"You had a number of contributions, then one that wasn't reported," Shreiner said. "It's an accounting puzzle, a mystery."

House Speaker Joe Hackney said Friday that people shouldn't rush to judgment in Wright's case.

"The investigation into the campaign finances of Rep. Wright continues, and we hope it will conclude soon. Until that process is complete, it would be unfair and premature to say anything about specific allegations made outside the scope of the investigation," Hackney, D-Orange, said in a statement.

But legislative watchdog Joe Sinsheimer, who filed the initial complaint against Wright, said he sees no excuse for the missing money.

"If he was motivated in some part by a scam to put the money in some other entity, his personal bank account or some other place other than his campaign account, than that makes the whole pay-to-play system in Raleigh that much more disturbing," Sinsheimer said. "I only think we've seen the tip of the iceberg."

If Wright knowingly signed false campaign reports, he could face perjury charges.