Local Politics

Critics: Perdue campaign finance problems show 'ineptitude'

Posted March 24, 2010 5:28 p.m. EDT
Updated March 25, 2010 5:38 a.m. EDT

— Criticism continues to grow over Gov. Bev Perdue's campaign finances.

Since last summer, her campaign has reported to the State Board of Elections 31 flights aboard donors' planes, at a total value of more than $25,000.

Last week, the campaign forfeited $48,000 to elections officials, saying they suspected a Wilmington businessman paid his employees to make political contributions to Perdue.

State law prohibits people from making contributions in the name of another person.

"If there's a mistake, you don't try to cover it up. You say the truth and face up to the public and say, 'This is what's happened,'" Perdue said Wednesday.

State Republican Party leaders have clamored for months for an elections board investigation into Perdue's campaign finances similar to the one the board conducted last year on former Gov. Mike Easley.

GOP officials even paid for a billboard along Capital Boulevard in Raleigh calling for Perdue to be more forthcoming about her campaign finances. The billboard says, "Answer the Question, Bev."

Democratic political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer said Wednesday that questions about Perdue's campaign fundraising and spending signal a systemic problem in government.

"It paints a pattern for Gov. Perdue and her campaign of ineptitude," said Sinsheimer, whose campaign-finance complaints helped lead to criminal convictions of former House Speaker Jim Black and Rep. Thomas Wright.

"Reporting campaign events a year later doesn't help the people of North Carolina figure out what's going on in campaigns," he said.

Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said full disclosure is the goal, even if it comes late.

"What we do not want is somebody to sweep it under the rug and act like it never happened," Bartlett said, adding that the board's stance on violations that candidates report themselves "depends on the set of facts, the circumstances, and what it is."

Sinsheimer argued that big donors shared by Easley and Perdue show pay-to-play politics persists in state government. He predicted that the elections board would eventually hold a hearing on Perdue's finances.

"There are too many questions about Gov. Perdue's finances to let the issue slide," he said.

Perdue said she stands by her campaign's reporting.

"I'm the one who voluntarily said, 'Put it out there for people to know about.' I still have a team working, and I would say that people who live in glass houses should do the same," she said.

The elections board is looking at the campaign reports of all Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates from 2004 and 2008 to see whether anyone else took flights on donors' planes.

Campaign laws bar corporate donations to political candidates and limit individual contributions to $4,000 to a particular candidate in a single election.

The elections board ordered Easley's campaign to pay $100,000 for dozens of unreported flights he took during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns.