Local Politics

Report: Perdue campaign tracked flights

Posted August 22, 2010 2:35 p.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2010 11:23 a.m. EDT

— The State Board of Elections has released a report related to its investigation of air travel and donations involving the election campaigns of Gov. Beverly Perdue.

In June, elections board investigator Kim Strach released a 13-page report detailing numerous reporting mistakes by the 2004 and 2008 campaigns of Perdue and other gubernatorial candidates, both Republican and Democratic.

The board executive director, Gary Bartlett, said then that he feels the mistakes were the result of bad bookkeeping, not wrongdoing.

Since then, Strach has interviewed employees who worked for Perdue as a candidate, governor and lieutenant governor.

The results of those interviews are recorded in a 10-page report dated Aug. 20.

Staff members turned over files indicating that starting in 2007, the Perdue campaign undertook an effort to review and document official state and private campaign air travel by Perdue and donations that paid for the campaign flights.

William Polk, general counsel for the Lieutenant Governor's Office when Perdue held that position, met in spring 2007 with Zach Ambrose, who served as chief of staff for the Lieutenant Governor's Office until 2007 and then as Perdue's campaign manager.

They talked about how to properly report and calculate flights and donations, in accordance with a 2004 advisory opinion from the elections board, according to Strach's report.

Ambrose and other staffers developed a spreadsheet to track flights from that point on out, and Polk reviewed flights past flights, going back to 2004.

His review, which concluded before the 2008 primary, identified 37 flights that had not been properly disclosed or paid for. By the 2008 general election, 18 had been reported and disclosed. Of the remaining 19, sixteen were disclosed and paid for throughout 2009 and 2010.

Three flights – from October 2004, March 2005 and March 2007 – have not been disclosed in campaign finance reports, according to the elections board report. Strach's report notes that "Staff has no information about whether or not these fights actually occurred."

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. Providing flights counts as an in-kind donation to a campaign.

Perdue campaign spokesman Marc Farinella said the campaign previously missed reporting flights, but he disputes any claim that flight information was intentionally withheld.

"They still don't have anybody who is suggesting with any knowledge that anyone in the campaign intentionally tried to conceal this information," Farinella said. “It is what we said it is and all the evidence shows it is what we said it is. We had a flawed system for tracking and reporting this information."

Political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer said the new information released by the State Board of Elections still raises the question of why the flights weren't released.

“The report clearly indicates they were tracking the flights internally. They were keeping track of the flights in Excel spreadsheets,” Sinsheimer said

Farinella said he questions whether there is a conflict of interest in the investigation as Strach is married to the former legal counsel for the state Republican Party. Strach has denied any conflict of interest.

Elections board members are expected to review the report at a Tuesday meeting in Asheville. They could fine the campaign, hold a public hearing or refer it to the District Attorney's Office.