Local News

State Senator May Face Charges Over Campaign Finances

Posted March 9, 2006 8:50 a.m. EST

— The State Board of Elections on Thursday asked local prosecutors to consider filing criminal charges against a Hertford County senator accused of failing to report $23,275 in campaign contributions since 2002.

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    Sen. Robert Holloman, a Democrat, told the board he hadn't intentionally violated rules, and asked board members to let him talk with his staff to fix the problems with his campaign filings.

    "My reports may have some errors and mistakes," Holloman said. "But I'm going to tell you all today -- I'm looking at you with a straight face -- Robert Holloman has nothing to hide. I'm not trying to hide anything."

    But the board referred the case of the Baptist minister to the Wake County district attorney's office, determining he also may have submitted fraudulent campaign disclosure reports and failed to report cash contributions of $100 or less.

    "Twenty-three thousand dollars of non-reported contributions is a great sum," board chairman Larry Leake said during a meeting break. "It is difficult for me to accept that a mistake of that magnitude is an innocent mistake."

    The board also ordered Holloman to pay to the state $1,750 -- the amount of illegal business or corporate contributions uncovered in a subpoena of Holloman's bank records.

    Board members also determined that Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, failed to file required reports for the 2002 and 2004 campaigns, but delayed a decision on a penalty against him after consulting with prosecutors. Leake said Hunter's case was not being referred for criminal charges.

    Hunter, carrying an oxygen tank with him to the witness table, said he believed he was exempted from filing a campaign report because he didn't raise more than $3,000 in either election.

    Similar bank records recovered as part of the board's ongoing investigation of House Speaker Jim Black's campaign and donations by the video poker industry and his fellow optometrists found that Hunter had raised $3,500 in 2002 and $9,180 in 2004, according to the board.

    "That surprises the heck out of me," said Hunter, a funeral home director and nine-term House member who has been hospitalized recently. He also failed to disclose his campaign expenses.

    The board dug deeper into Holloman's campaign reports after learning he had received a $250 donation from the N.C. Amusement Machine Association political action committee.

    The bank records show that Holloman had failed to report $10,350 in donations of $100 or less, Leake said. State law requires the amounts be listed on campaign reports but the donors don't have to be identified.

    Holloman also couldn't immediately account for a $3,000 cash deposit in February 2002, of which Leake said $1,300 went to his campaign bank account but was unreported to the state. The rest went in his personal account.

    Holloman, a two-term senator, could face misdemeanor violations if charged. Reached by phone after the meeting, Holloman said the evidence ultimately will show "there is no fraud involved." Hunter didn't return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.

    A sitting legislator hasn't been charged with campaign or legislative-related crimes in more than 20 years, according to General Assembly staff members.

    Holloman succeeded Frank Ballance, who is now serving a four-year federal prison term for diverting state dollars from a drug and alcohol abuse recovery center to his law firm and family. The charges came after he left both the state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

    Leake said he was disturbed by Hunter's testimony that he had cashed $1,000 in optometrists' campaign checks held by M. Scott Edwards, the secretary of the N.C. State Optometric Society PAC. He gave the money back to Edwards, who in turn gave $300 or $400 to Hunter for a Legislative Black Caucus scholarship event. The whereabouts of the rest of the cash is unknown.

    The board last month referred Edwards and former Rep. Michael Decker, R-Forsyth, to Wake County prosecutors for potential prosecution. But it hasn't decided what to do about Black's campaign or the optometrists' PAC.

    Black testified last month that he filled in Decker's name on blank payee lines on $4,200 in checks that the speaker had received from Edwards and another optometrist. Board investigators also said it appeared his campaign accepted corporate contributions.

    The board has yet to decide whether to take action against Black's campaign or the PAC. It will resume its public inquiry March 21.

    Eddie Speas, the state's former No. 2 government attorney, told the board Thursday he didn't believe Black violated the law by accepting or filing in the checks -- a challenge to the findings of a state board investigator.

    An affidavit signed by Speas on Black's behalf was made public Wednesday. Strach said after the hearing she stands by her testimony.