State News

Paper: Former Gov. Easley took private flights

Posted May 9, 2009 12:45 p.m. EDT
Updated May 11, 2009 3:18 p.m. EDT

— Former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley took at least 25 flights on private jets during his final six years in office. He didn't pay for some of the flights, and the value of other trips exceed state campaign contribution limits, a Raleigh newspaper reported.

Several businessmen who provided the planes to Easley were appointed to the boards of state agencies and universities, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported in a story published Saturday.

Easley might have taken even more flights on private planes. Records from the Highway Patrol, which travel with and provide security for the governor, are missing for all of 2005 and other significant stretches, the paper reported.

The flights could break ethics and campaign finance rules. North Carolina law requires the disclosure of gifts over $200, and Easley didn't report some of the free flights. The law also prevents corporations from donating to campaigns and limits individuals to giving $4,000 to a candidate in an election cycle. The market value of many of the flights appears to be over $4,000 or enough to top the legal limit when combined with other contributions. It can cost up to $1,300 an hour to charter the kind of private plane the governor needs to travel.

Anyone found to have violated campaign fiance laws faces civil or misdemeanor criminal penalties.

Easley and his campaign lawyer John Wallace refused to talk the newspaper about the story.

Linda Daves, chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, issued a blistering attack on Easley.

"Not only do actions of this nature by those who call themselves public servants destroy the public trust, these violations also create an elite political class insulated from the people," Daves said in a statement. "We must be rid once and for all of these political leeches who infect the culture of state government."

Most of the flights came as the Democrat successfully ran for re-election in 2004.

Developer V. Parker Overton flew Easley to a governor's policy conference in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in November 2003. He said the governor did not repay him.

Overton said he agreed to fly Easley to earn goodwill from the governor for East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and other interests in the eastern part of the state.

"If the governor calls you up and needs the plane, you do it," Overton said. "I'd do it for (Gov. Beverly) Perdue if she called or that fellow she beat."

Before the flight, Overton had already donated $3,000 to Easley's campaign.

Overton doesn't serve on any state boards, but some businessmen who provided the flights to the governor do.

Cameron McRae was appointed by Easley to the state Board of Transportation and the Global TransPark Authority. The Bojangles' franchiser from Kinston flew Easley in his planes, and some the trips were not reported.

A flight to a fishing trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was provided by Raleigh real estate broker McQueen Campbell, who Easley twice appointed a trustee at N.C. State University, where he became chairman. Campbell told the newspaper he also provided other flights to the former governor, some of which were not disclosed in campaign reports.

Easley didn't report the fishing trip as a gift.

The paper reconstructed the former governor's travels using security logs from the Highway Patrol, as well as interviews with people who provided the flights to Easley and others.

The newspaper has sought records on Easley's travels since 2005, but his administration resisted, saying details on the governor's travels would compromise his security, even after the trips were completed.

Gov. Beverly Perdue, who took office in January, ordered the Highway Patrol to release travel and other records.

The details of Easley's travels and how he arranged the trips is extremely disturbing, said Bob Phillips, who heads the nonpartisan advocacy group Common Cause North Carolina, which has been active in seeking campaign reform and lobbying for openness.

"Think about how many millions of dollars he raised, ... and there's this get-something-for-free attitude," Phillips said.