Former Legislator Returns Questionable PAC Contribution
Posted February 22, 2006 8:18 a.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — Money that flowed to and from House Speaker Jim Black and his political ally Michael Decker put campaign finance in the spotlight.
"North Carolina's laws about what you can do with campaign contributions are some of the weakest in the nation," said Chris Heagarty with the North Carolina Center For Voter Education.
"We need to have things in black and white, hard copy, and the do's and don't," said Republican Rep. Julia Howard, co-chair of the House Select Ethics Committee.
As the committee looks to tighten up what politicians can do with their money, WRAL took a closer look at what some people question about the system. Before he resigned, Rep. Bill Culpepper spent more than $12,000 in contributions for credit card bills and paid another $12,000 to himself for office rent. He also called all legal expenses campaign-related.
But, something else caught WRAL's attention. Gov. Mike Easley appointed the respected Democrat to the state Utilities Commission last November. Just days after that appointment, but before the lawmaker officially took the position, records show he accepted a $2000 check from a BellSouth Political Action Committee. As a Utilities Commissioner, Culpepper regulates BellSouth.
"It's one of those things that certainly the appearance of it is not good, said Bob Phillips with the government watchdog group Common Cause. "It's another one of those examples where the public questions about the reason the money was given."
In a phone interview with WRAL, Culpepper intially downplayed the PAC money, stating: 'I said to them, 'Go ahead and send it. I'll probably give the money to the Democratic Caucus. I don't see a conflict.' " WRAL called Easley's office on Thursday, asking him for a comment on the contribution. After they called Culpepper, he contacted WRAL later Wednesday, stressing there was no wrongful intent when he accepted the money. However, after more thought, he's now decided to give the donation back to the BellSouth PAC.