Local Politics

Fayetteville Lawmaker Under Fire for Finances, Nonprofit Ties

Posted May 30, 2007 6:21 p.m. EDT
Updated May 31, 2007 10:32 a.m. EDT

— Another state lawmaker faces a criminal investigation tied to campaign finances.

The State Board of Elections could hold investigative hearings as early as next month into the affairs of Rep. Mary McAllister.  Authorities are interested in a loan repayment the Cumberland County Democrat made and in her involvement with a state-funded nonprofit group.

"At some point, Rep. McAllister is going to have to take care of her own business here. She's going to have to comply with state law," said Joe Sinsheimer, the former political consultant who filed a complaint against McAllister with the elections board.

Sinsheimer's earlier complaints led to the downfall of former House Speaker Jim Black and to a continuing investigation into the finances of Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover.

He said he sees a pattern of questions and conflict in McAllister's financial records. The state board is waiting on bank records to clarify McAllister's incomplete campaign finances.

McAllister referred all questions to her attorney, Jonathan Charleston, who said the allegations against her amount to simple mistakes, not corruption.

She faces questions about her work with Operation Sickle Cell, a counseling and testing nonprofit organization. According to tax documents, McAllister earns $115,000 a year as executive director, which amounts to about 15 percent of the group's budget.

Operation Sickle Cell receives taxpayer money funneled through the Legislature. McAllister sponsored a bill in 2005 calling for an additional $500,000 payment to the group, though it died in committee.

"What Rep. McAllister has done is an insult to those thousands of nonprofits that are doing the hard work out there," Sinsheimer said.

"A lot of people say a nonprofit is a for-profit for somebody," said Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. "The question is, is that nonprofit a for-profit for a legislator? And if it is, it's something we need to be real careful about."

Misuse of nonprofit money sent former U.S. Rep Frank Ballance to prison and is part of the investigation into Wright. Lawmakers have passed tougher ethics legislation, but McAllister omitted her role as Operation Sickle Cell executive director and her affiliation with a church-based nonprofit on a new ethics disclosure form.

Charleston said many of the questions on the ethics form are open to interpretation and said McAllister filled it out honestly.

He also noted that Operation Sickle Cell was receiving state money long before McAllister became involved with it.