Local Politics

Elections Board: Lawmaker Broke Campaign Finance Rules

Posted June 27, 2007 5:48 a.m. EDT
Updated June 27, 2007 7:05 p.m. EDT

— The State Board of Elections ruled Wednesday that a Fayetteville lawmaker violated campaign finance regulations and ordered her to repay almost $5,700.

Rep. Mary McAllister, D-Cumberland, was found to have committed a "substantial violation" of rules governing campaign finances. But the elections board found no criminal wrongdoing and didn't refer the case to prosecutors.

The elections board subpoenaed McAllister's bank records after a state audit raised concerns about her campaign finances and her state-funded non-profit.

The 17-year veteran of the state House testified Wednesday morning that she didn't remember certain loan payments listed on her campaign reports. She also claimed election workers may have made mistakes.

When McAllister was confronted with bank records that revealed she deposited money from her campaign into her personal account, she admitted errors. She said she didn't recall where a cash deposit came from.

McAllister told the board that she couldn't remember making any loans but believed she was due repayment from the campaign.

"I know that I'm loaned some money to my campaign, but I don't remember having knowingly or intentionally repaying myself something that I didn't owe myself," she said.

The elections board voted unanimously to order her to forfeit $5,669 in improper loan repayments and to pay the state $7,000 for the cost of investigating the case.

McAllister declined to comment after the hearing.

"Mary McAllister filed reports that she thought were accurate. She used her best efforts. Sometimes, your best efforts are not goo enough," said her attorney, Jonathan Charleston.

"There were mistakes made, but once those mistakes were identified, Rep. McAllister took immediate steps to correct that," Charleston said. "She's a lawmaker; she's not an accountant."

McAllister has filed amended campaign reports to correct the errors, he said.

Elections board Chairman Larry Leake said he found no criminal intent in McAllister's shoddy bookkeeping.

"I can't in good conscience say that she set out to deceive and hide and circumvent our election laws," Leake said.

But former political consultant Joe Sinsheimer, who filed the complaint against McAllister with the elections board, said her actions are unacceptable, regardless of whether there was criminal intent or just simple incompetence.

"It's troubling to think that somebody that's paying that little attention to serious matters of compliance with state law is, in fact, a state lawmaker," Sinsheimer said.

The elections board didn't look into McAllister's $115,000 salary as part-time director for Operation Sickle Cell, a nonprofit organization that provides medical counseling. Allegations had been made that she improperly mingled campaign cash with state funds allocated to the nonprofit.

McAllister is the third Democratic member of the state House to face questions about campaign finance violations.

Former House Speaker Jim Black is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to state and federal corruption charges. The State Bureau of Investigation and the Wake County District Attorney's Office is investigating Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, who is accused of trying to hide about $200,000 in illegal contributions.