State News

Elections officials ask lawmakers about campaign reports

Posted November 24, 2009 12:25 p.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2009 11:23 p.m. EST

— North Carolina elections officials have asked more than a dozen state officials and lawmakers to fix potential problems with campaign finance reports.

The State Board of Elections sent audit letters in the past week to the campaign committees of Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand and Minority Leader Phil Berger, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, State Auditor Beth Wood and others.

The sudden slew of audits is the result of the elections board beefing up its investigation staff, which follows changes to state ethics laws two years ago. Officials said they plan to audit every campaign committee eventually.

Watchdog groups said such audits are an important step to clean up North Carolina's political scene.

"There have been some people who have laughed about (elections audits) in the past, but I think this will end the laughing," said Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. "The idea that people in this state don't trust elected officials needs to be turned around. The perception that our state government is for sale is a bad one."

The letters sent to Rand and Berger, for example, note discrepancies about donations the campaigns reported receiving from political action committees. The lawmakers also have been asked to explain donations received during the legislative session from PACs that hire registered lobbyists, which would be illegal.

Both men have dozens of issues that must be addressed, with Rand's audit dating to 2001 and Berger's to 2004.

"The committee did nothing improper. It's technical stuff. We're getting to the bottom of it," Rand said.

"It looks like bookkeeping issues. Ultimately, we'll get the whole thing resolved. As they conduct more audits, you'll see committees make fewer mistakes," Berger said.

The audit letters don't necessarily mean that campaign finance laws have been broken, and campaign committees have several weeks to correct the problems.

The elections board could impose fines for violations and issues that aren't resolved.

"There will be fewer mistakes for two reasons," Pinsky said. "Nobody wants to go over it a second time, and they're going to take it seriously, and I don't think they have in the past."