Local Politics

Perdue won't discuss federal probe

Posted October 25, 2010 6:20 a.m. EDT
Updated November 24, 2010 3:27 p.m. EST

— Gov. Beverly Perdue on Monday made her first public appearance since an announcement that federal investigators are looking into her 2008 gubernatorial campaign.

Perdue spoke to about 2,000 elected and appointed officials from around the state at the annual conference of the North Carolina League of Municipalities.

During her 20-minute speech, she discussed the state's economic outlook, but she didn't address the federal probe. Afterward, she said she couldn't talk about the investigation.

"I'd love to talk about it. I really wish I could, but I've been advised not to do it," she said.

The federal investigation comes amid a State Bureau Investigation probe of how Perdue's campaign paid for and reported 41 private flights going back to 2005. They weren’t reported until last year.

In August, the State Board of Elections fined the campaign $30,000 for reporting violations.

Two weeks ago, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby asked for the SBI investigation. He said he had lingering questions about her campaign flights but that they didn't involve Perdue herself.

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.

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer has called for an investigation into Perdue's campaign flights since last year. He said Friday that he continues to believe that the campaign broke state law and then tried to cover it up.

Perdue declined Monday to respond to Fetzer's charges.

"It's eight days before an election, and I'm not going to get into a contest with the chairman of the Republican Party," she said. "In terms of the investigation and my campaign, it's inappropriate for me to talk about that, but at the end of the day, we'll all work on this."

Local mayors who attended Monday's conference had mixed opinions on the federal investigation.

"There's no question to me there's something political in this latest involvement," Durham Mayor Bill Bell said. "The timing of it seems pretty strange to me."

"Where there's smoke, there must be fire," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "I do believe in the innocence until proven guilty, so I try to keep an open mind about it."

Democratic consultant and political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer said the probe has just begun, but often these types of investigations don't end well.

"Quite frankly, what prosecutors are communicating is they don't believe the governor and they don't believe the governor's people," Sinsheimer said. "I think Democrats are going to look at the election results and look at (Perdue's) poll ratings and say she cannot run for re-election."

The federal probe into Perdue also comes as a federal grand jury has been investigating former Gov. Mike Easley for almost two years, partly because of campaign flights he took aboard donors' planes.

Last year, the state elections board 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.