Local Politics

Political watchdog analyzes Poole's indictment, its effect on Easley

Posted January 21, 2010 9:01 p.m. EST
Updated January 22, 2010 12:42 p.m. EST

— Last October, former Gov. Mike Easley defended himself against accusations of campaign finance violations before the State Board of Elections.

Three months later, the indictment of his top aide and legal counsel, Ruffin Poole, details pay-to-play schemes and special favors within the Easley administration.

“If there was any doubt before today that North Carolina state government was for sale, that question’s been put to rest with this 51-count indictment,” political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer said Thursday following Poole’s indictment.

While Easley wasn't named in Poole's indictment, Sinsheimer said what investigators uncovered mirrors some well-documented behavior by the former governor.

“We know that Gov. Easley was getting free flights. We know that Gov. Easley got a $135,000 discount from these same developers that were corrupting Mr. Poole. We know the governor got a free golf membership worth $50,000,” he said.

Easley attorney Joe Cheshire said Thursday that the former governor had no knowledge any any dealings between Poole and political donors.

“While Governor Easley has no knowledge of the conduct that makes up the criminal allegations (in the indictment), he has faith in Ruffin Poole and finds it hard to believe that he would ever intentionally violate the law,” Cheshire said in a statement. “Ruffin Poole, like anyone else charged with a crime, deserves the presumption of innocence, not a rush to judgment.”

Poole's political dealings with major campaign donors named in the indictment, including former Department of Transportation board member Lanny Wilson, could be trouble for Easley, Sinsheimer said.

Wilson was a major fundraiser for the Easley campaign.

“People were giving money to Lanny Wilson to give to politicians, because they believed Lanny Wilson could open doors for them inside state government. This is pay-to-play run amok in North Carolina,” Sinsheimer said.

Beyond Easley, other politicians with ties to Wilson should be concerned, including Gov. Beverly Perdue, Sinsheimer said. Wilson was a major fundraiser for Perdue.

“She makes sure the money raised for her campaigns is raised legally and reported fully as required by law,” Perdue’s spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said Thursday.