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Political Observers Want Change To Campaign Spending Rules

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is one of only three states with no rules on how candidates can spend campaign contributions, but some political observers think it is time for a change.

The lack of state rules means money that contributors think is going to fund a campaign can actually be spent on home payments, meals and even gifts for other people if that is how political candidates choose to use the funding.

Part of state House of Representatives Speaker Jim Black's power is his ability to raise money and distribute it to fellow Democrats.

Records show that in February, the speaker sent a $4,000 check to Michael Decker, a man who had switched parties to support Black. The contribution came months after Decker was voted out of office. The next day after Black sent the check, Decker closed his campaign account and wrote himself a $4,900 check.

"The only way you can look at this is it's some sort of political payoff for Decker's past support of Speaker Black," said former political consultant Joe Sinsheimer, who created a Web site called Jim Black Must Go. "It's petty corruption at its worst."

Despite Sinsheimer's objections, the law protects the Speaker and his ally.

"You don't even have to justify it," said Chris Heagarty, who runs the Center for Voter Education. "All the state requires is that if you spend it, you document it. They don't tell you how to spend it."

Heagarty went on to say that in North Carolina, for example, he could raise $100,000 to run for office, spend about $10,000 and quit running.

"And I'm up to $90,000," he said.

Black's campaign stands by thousands of dollars spent on the Speaker's Raleigh apartment, flowers for legislators, gas expenses and the payment to Decker.

"It isn't news that Speaker Black supports people who have supported him," said Black spokeswoman Julie Robinson. "He was disappointed that Rep. Decker lost and hoped that he would run again, which is why he gave him a contribution."

Black's office contends it did not realize Decker had closed his campaign account until Tuesday.

Still, some critics now hope campaign finance can be rolled into a larger discussion of lobbying and ethics reforms.

"I think the public would have a lot of questions about it," Heagarty said. "The big question is what can they do about it? The only people who can change laws are legislators. They're probably not too keen on changing them."


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