Local Politics

Report: Most campaigns reported candidate flights wrong

Posted June 25, 2010 2:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 25, 2010 7:06 p.m. EDT

— A State Board of Elections report released Friday details numerous mistakes by the campaigns of Gov. Beverly Perdue and other gubernatorial candidates in reporting air travel, but an official said there's no evidence of criminal violations.

The elections board has spent months reviewing flights taken by Perdue and other candidates aboard donors' planes during the 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial campaigns that weren't reported.

In a 13-page report, elections board investigator Kim Strach detailed a lack of proper documentation and reporting of flights by the campaigns of Republicans Richard Vinroot, Patrick Ballantine, Pat McCrory, Fred Smith and Bill Graham and Democrats Perdue and Richard Moore.

The Moore campaign also destroyed all of its 2008 records, despite regulations that the records were to be retained until January 2011, according to the report.

Still, Gary Bartlett, executive director of the elections board, said he feels the mistakes about reporting the flights were cases of bad bookkeeping and not the result of any attempt to evade the regulations.

"No evidence surfaced indicating any intent of wrongdoing," Bartlett wrote in a memo to the board.

He said it appears that documenting air travel simply slipped through the cracks for campaign staffs that were overworked, experienced high turnover and lacked communication with managers.

The elections board should look at creating a special campaign finance form for air travel to be filed with quarterly reports, he said. State officials also will provide training, both in person and online, to campaign staffs on how to document candidate air travel properly, he said.

The full board is expected to address the investigative report next month and determine how to handle the reporting violations and whether to turn any information over to prosecutors to pursue a criminal case.

Last fall, the elections board ordered the campaign of former Gov. Mike Easley to pay $100,000 for dozens of unreported flights during his 2000 and 2004 campaigns. They turned their findings over to a special prosecutor to determine if any criminal charges were warranted.

Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kennerly is reviewing the Easley case and said he expects to make a decision on whether to file criminal charges against the former governor sometime next month.

Perdue's campaign has in recent months disclosed 31 flights the governor took aboard donors' private planes since 2000, worth a combined $25,400. Some of the flights were classified as in-kind contributions on amended campaign finance reports, and the campaign repaid other donors for the flights they provided.

Campaign officials said they discovered her unreported flights after switching to new financial software and auditing previous records.

The elections board report detailed another 10 flights in the 2004 and 2008 campaigns that the governor's campaign hadn't reported previously, but Strach wrote that the campaign appeared to make "substantial efforts" to properly account for the flights during its internal audit.

The report also notes that Buzzy Stubbs, the former law partner of Perdue's late husband, racked up $28,498 in air travel expenses for Perdue and tried to get the state Democratic Party to recognize it as an in-kind contribution since he had already contributed the maximum allowed to her campaign.

State laws bar campaign contributions from businesses, and they cap the amount an individual can donate to a particular candidate at $4,000 per election.

The state party rejected Stubbs' contribution because it's illegal to contribute to a political party with the intent to benefit a specific candidate, according to the report. Perdue's campaign later reimbursed Stubbs for the flights.

Officials with the North Carolina Republican Party said recently that they plan to file a public records request to obtain all of the elections board files in the investigation of Perdue's campaign committee.

GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer said in a statement late Friday that the report demonstrates that Perdue and her campaign lied about the flights and that the elections board has lost its credibility in holding candidates accountable.