Local Politics

Easley campaign goes before elections board

The State Board of Elections will begin a public examination of former Gov. Mike Easley's campaign finances Monday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Months of probing by state investigators culminates Monday in the first campaign finance hearing in North Carolina history for a former governor.

More than two dozen of Easley's former aides, contributors and Democratic Party backers have been subpoenaed to testify in the State Board of Elections hearing, which starts at 11 a..m. in a downtown Raleigh hotel and could last up to a week.

Easley also has been subpoenaed, but it's unknown whether he will even show up for much of the hearing.

If he exercises his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, he would have to appear to sign a document to that effect. Beyond that, observers disagree on whether the former governor will break his silence about the campaign finance investigation.

He has made no public comment about the probe, other than issuing a statement in May saying he welcomed the investigation and was sure he would be cleared of wrongdoing.

"I think the governor's arrogance and ego will compel him to try to answer questions before the state board," said Joe Sinsheimer, a Democratic political consultant whose complaints sparked public hearings into the campaign finances of former House Speaker Jim Black and former Rep. Thomas Wright.

Kieran Shanahan, a defense attorney who's not associated with the Easley case, said he would advise the former governor to keep his mouth shut.

"I would sit on him to make sure he used the Fifth Amendment. That is the only correct move at this point," Shanahan said.

Questions surround amended finance reports Easley's campaign filed in April after previously failing to disclose the use of an SUV provided by a Red Springs car dealer. The campaign is also under scrutiny over unreported flights on private planes, which could have violated donation limits.

State law prohibits political contributions from corporations and limits individual donations to $4,000 per candidate in any election cycle. The value of some flights appear to be more than $4,000, or would surpass the limit when combined with other donations.

In July , the state Democratic Party forfeited more than $24,000 to the elections board in an attempt to resolve questions over several "in-kind" donations during the 2004 campaign, most of which originated from donors who also have acknowledged flying Easley around while governor.

Andrew Whalen, executive director of the Democratic Party, issued a statement Monday morning saying that the party will continue to cooperate with the elections board's investigation.

"For our democracy to function effectively, it is imperative that the people of North Carolina have confidence in the electoral process," Whalen said. "We are confident that a fair, impartial and unbiased hearing by the State Board of Elections will help restore and maintain trust in the integrity of our political system."

The list of those subpoenaed so far includes former Democratic Party officials Jerry Meek and Scott Falmlen, former Easley aides Cari Boyce and Ruffin Poole and former Revenue Secretary Muriel Offerman. Highway Patrol Capt. Alan Melvin, who headed Easley's security detail, and former state Department of Transportation board members Lannie Wilson and Cameron McRae also have been subpoenaed.

McRae, a Bojangles' franchisee, former North Carolina State University board chairman McQueen Campbell, hog baron Wendell Murphy and developers Gary Allen and Nick Garrett are among the political contributors subpoenaed in the case.

It's unclear who on the list will actually be called as witnesses.

The elections board could take no action or issue a fine or reprimand. The board's findings could also be turned over to the Wake County District Attorney's Office for possible criminal prosecution.


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