Local Politics

Feds investigating Perdue campaign

Posted October 22, 2010 3:47 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2010 10:38 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Bev Perdue said Friday that federal authorities are investigating her 2008 gubernatorial campaign.

Robin Zier, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney George Holding, said federal grand jury proceedings are secret, so she couldn't confirm or deny that any Perdue staffers had been subpoenaed.

The State Bureau of Investigation already was looking into campaign flights that Perdue took in 2004 and 2008 that weren't reported until last year.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby asked for the SBI probe two weeks ago, saying he had questions about "the payment for and reporting of" the flights. He said his questions didn't involve Perdue herself.

The State Board of Elections in August fined Perdue's campaign $30,000 for 41 flights aboard campaign donors' planes. The campaign has paid the fine.

Perdue and representatives of her campaign have maintained that there was never any intent to conceal the flights, some of which might have violated state limits on contributions to candidates. Rather, they have said, the campaign had "a flawed system for recording flights," and the trips weren't discovered until an audit of campaign records was conducted last year.

"As a citizen, a candidate for public office and an elected official of this state, I have tried my best to abide by all applicable laws, and my administration has been one of the most open in history," Perdue said in a statement.

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer, who has called for an investigation of the Perdue campaign since last fall, said he hopes a federal probe will finally resolve how the campaign flights were handled.

"We have believed all along that it would take a criminal investigation to get to the truth," Fetzer said in a statement. "We still stand by our assertions that Gov. Perdue and her campaign broke laws and attempted to cover up their actions with lies."

Meanwhile, Andrew Whalen, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said the investigation smacks of partisan politics.

"Eleven days before a crucial election affecting the direction of our nation and state, we have learned that the Republican U.S. attorney has apparently chosen to serve subpoenas and open yet another investigation into a Democratic elected official," Whalen said in a statement. "The timing of these events would lead any reasonable person to have serious questions about this new investigation."

Brad Crone, a Democratic consultant, said the party shouldn't be so quick to impugn the motives for the investigation, noting it likely is being led by veteran federal prosecutors Dennis Duffy and John Bruce.

"They are very honorable men. They have a lot of character and a lot of integrity. They have been very fair. I think that's been the case in every case that they've handled," Crone said.

Crone suggested the feds may be interested in something beyond just the flights.

"Was there any type of cover up or distractions in the investigations of the flights? That may be the big issue the federal government is looking at," he said.

Willoughby declined to discuss what impact the federal investigation could have on the SBI probe.

"We have a state investigation that's ongoing into a matter that arose at the board of elections, and we'll continue to try and look into that and see what information we can develop," he said.

Willoughby wouldn't say whether federal investigators have requested his assistance of any of his findings.

"The more we talk with each other about our activities, the better off we'll be and the better off the public will be," he said.

A grand jury has been investigating former Gov. Mike Easley for almost two years, including campaign flights he took aboard donors' planes.

The state elections board a year ago ordered his campaign to pay $100,000 for dozens of unreported flights. Most of the fine has gone unpaid, and because the campaign has run out of money and shut down, it's unlikely the rest will be paid.

The board's findings in the Easley case were turned over to Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly to determine if criminal charges were warranted. He hasn't yet decided whether to press charges.