Local Politics

Elections board to address Perdue, Easley cases

Posted August 23, 2010 4:13 p.m. EDT
Updated August 23, 2010 7:10 p.m. EDT

— The State Board of Elections is expected to address the campaign finances of two North Carolina governors during a Tuesday meeting in the western North Carolina mountains.

The board on Friday released a 10-page investigative report that showed how Gov. Beverly Perdue's campaign tracked her travel aboard private planes and donations that paid for the campaign flights.

Perdue's campaign a year ago began amending campaign finance reports to reflect flights she took aboard donors' planes, saying they discovered the flights hadn't been reported previously while auditing finances after switching to a new software program.

The campaign reported 41 flights during the 2004 and 2008 campaigns. Some were treated as in-kind donations, and the campaign repaid other donors for flights because they had already given the maximum allowed to her campaign.

In a report released in June, the elections board found that most gubernatorial candidates didn't properly account for campaign flights, but Executive Director Gary Bartlett said there was no evidence that anyone tried to skirt campaign finance laws.

Now, elections board Chairman Larry Leake says he's troubled by the findings in the new report, and he has questions about who knew what and when.

"The new report is the most damaging yet for the Perdue campaign' s assertions that this (lack of reporting) was just sloppiness," said Joe Sinsheimer, a political watchdog and former Democratic consultant. "This report seems to contradict almost everything that the Perdue campaign has said last eight months."

Marc Farinella, a spokesman for the Perdue campaign, said no one tried to conceal the campaign flights.

“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," Farinella said.

The campaign flights investigation has heightened tensions within the elections board and elicited partisan sniping from both Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans have alleged that Leake and Bartlett interfered with the investigation to protect Perdue, and Democrats contended that Kim Strach, the lead investigator, was biased because her husband worked for the state Republican Party.

Leake said any discussion of internal strife would take place behind closed doors at Tuesday's meeting.

The elections board could fine the Perdue campaign for violating state law, schedule a public hearing into the matter or close the case without action.

Last fall, the board ordered the campaign of former Gov. Mike Easley to pay $100,000 for not reporting dozens of campaign flights.

Easley's campaign is expected to appear before the board Tuesday to admit it's liable for not reporting the flights. But the campaign is also out of money and cannot pay most of the fine, and state law doesn't allow the board to seek the rest from Easley.