Welcome to this week`s electronic update from NC SPIN.
On this week`s edition of NC SPIN we`ll talk about the state of ethics in our state, a possible gusher of water wars, reforming our tax codes and bonded term limits. Tune in!
The panel includes: Chris Fitzsimon, Director of NC Policy Watch; John Hood, President of the John Locke Foundation; Ruth Sheehan, columnist with the News and Observer and former Lt. Governor, Dennis Wicker. Tom Campbell will moderate the discussion.
Tom Campbell`s Spin
With all the news about corruption in government a topical question is Who Do You Trust?
This Carolina Community was named after a stranger who wandered into town.
Heard on the Street
Sad day in North Carolina
Regardless of how the State Board of Elections decides to deal with former Governor Mike Easley and those who surrounded him our state is the big loser. We should feel repulsed and embarrassed about the sorry state of politics in North Carolina. The courts will determine whether or not laws were violated but one inescapable conclusion is that good judgment, moral principles and respect for the office were thrown out the window. People who had resources and power believed they were entitled and deserved to bend rules for their own advantage.
John Hood, in today`s Carolina Journal, says that before we focus on blaming the system we need to first and foremost understand this is a problem of the perpetrator(s).
Governor Easley couldn`t have been more charming or deferential to the State Board of Elections. His performance was worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Your reporter has listened to his and other testimony given so far and has recorded observations on the first three days on our blog site, NCBlogger.com. If interested, go read them. (If you enjoy them be sure to subscribe to receive future posts.)
And it isn`t just Governor Easley who is indictable. Anyone with more than a casual knowledge of the way politics works in this state knows, repeat KNOWS, that both political parties accept money designated for the benefit of specific candidates. They deny, deny, deny, then wink and turn their heads to the practice, primarily designed to escape campaign contribution laws. Where are these folks when this discussion is being held? Suddenly they become deaf, sitting on their thumbs. Nobody who ever participated in party politics will step up and admit what goes on. How can they act indignant when they are complicit?
It is going on right now, as we write this newsletter. Michael Hayden, the fundraiser for Easley, is currently at work trying to raise money to help Governor Perdue eliminate her campaign debt. Sources tell us Hayden is approaching contributors to give money to the Democratic Party, earmarked to help retire Perdue`s debt from the 2008 campaign.
This is exactly the problem with politics and most everything else in our culture today. Good people sit quietly while transgressions occur, thinking that if something doesn`t directly hurt them they can turn their heads. There is no right and wrong anymore, just what is right or wrong for me personally and I can justify almost anything to get what I want. I am entitled.
It is appropriate to comment on the process so far. It is obvious that the staff of the State Board of Elections has done a great deal of investigation into the matters, as evidenced by the exhibits that have been presented to date. In general we think Chairman Leake and the board has done a fair job of the hearing. The first day we thought their conduct of the hearing was pretty good and they appeared to have some method to their line of questions. The second day was horrible and they let witnesses off the hook too easily. Yesterday`s questions of the Governor were deferential, as perhaps they should have been. Overall their questioning has been somewhat disjointed, frequently failing to follow up on obvious questions in response to testimony and, especially in the case of member Bob Cordle, have appeared shamelessly partisan. Cordle should be embarrassed for his conduct in this case.
The proceedings got off on perhaps a wrong foot the first day, when it was revealed that the Governor`s former Legal Counsel, Ruffin Poole, had filed action to have his testimony quashed. We were of the opinion this might be sough because of attorney-client privilege. Today`s News and Observer reports that isn`t the case. But the motion was heard behind closed doors and the true reason for Poole`s refusal to testify has not been given by either the judge hearing the motion, Poole, the Governor or the State Board. Testimony given at the hearings indicates that at least on one occasion Poole was contacted to help with a permit by Gary Allen. Speculation is that Poole`s testimony is relevant in the federal case involving Easley and anything he says might adversely affect the case which is still being assembled. Whatever the outcome of these hearings, this matter will likely remain a mystery.
Today`s Under the Dome blog has a good summation of the key items disclosed so far and the decisions the Board of Elections must face. They include the 2000 GMC Yukon provided the Easley`s. Was it, as the Governor asserted, primarily for the use of the campaign or was it, as car dealer Bob Bleeker testified, primarily for the use of Michael Easley? Should it have been reported on campaign reports? Was the omission perjury or just a violation of campaign laws that must be corrected?
The matter of air travel has been focused entirely on flights provided by McQueen Campbell. Do we believe the Governor that he thought they had been reported and paid or do we accept Campbell`s version of the contribution?
Repairs made to the Easley home are an interesting subject. Paying for them out of campaign funds was not prohibited at the time, especially since the home was “rented” to the campaign during some of this period. We would love to see more documentation as to whether campaign funds were given to Easley for rent of the house. Was insurance fraud committed? Shouldn`t it be easy to find who filed the insurance claim, for how much, who was paid and where the money went? This line of questioning was inadequate in our opinion.
Donations to the Democratic Party made after donors had “maxed out” (given $4,000 per campaign) are also subject to further investigation. Again, we would assume a paper trail could be followed that might affirm or deny how those contributions were used.
Today`s hearings are supposed to conclude with one witness, Scott Falmen, former Executive Director of the NC Democratic Party. Falmen denied repeatedly, under oath, that money given by a campaign`s donors could be designated for specific use for the candidate or that the candidate could instruct the Democratic Party how to spend those funds. Having said this, however, he also admitted some $500,000 was expended as “in kind” contributions on behalf of the Easley campaign. For his part, Falmen has led the board into a highly-detailed, often confusing description of the way funds are handled by the Democratic Party, all trying to logically explain that the Party doesn`t have slush funds or accept funds earmarked for a candidate. The board must determine whether they believe there was a direct connection between the giving and spending.
One revelation today was that “reattributed” contributions, those moneys coming from donors who have “maxed out” and have agreed to have their additional contributions “re-attributed” or “re-designated” to the Democratic Party, go into a federal account and are not under the purview or reporting to the State Board of Elections. This is likely to be worrisome to the board. Falmen tried to explain how this money was to be used, but your reporter remembers the admonition of former State Treasurer Harlan Boyles, that once money goes into a pot it often becomes fungible, meaning it can be moved from purpose to another.
The Board of Elections must decide what to do with all the testimony they have received. Clearly there are conflicting versions on several points. At the least we expect the Easley campaign will be fined for failure to report in a timely manner the car and flights. We suspect the board will have a hard time sorting out who is telling the truth and who isn`t and will likely refer the matter to Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby for further legal action. This is standard procedure and means the investigation and possible prosecution will then become a state legal case.
This could present an interesting scenario. It is widely rumored that Willoughby and Easley are hunting buddies. If the State Board remands the case to him, as prescribed by law, will Willoughby recuse himself from this case due to conflicts of interest? If he does who will then become responsible for prosecuting the case? Attorney General Roy Cooper?
Aside from possible further legal action, the question many are asking is what should be done to try to prevent future moral and ethical lapses? Expect a growing cry to tighten laws regarding political parties. We expect to see a move that would limit the amount of money that can be given a political party to the same amount allowed to be given a candidate. It is obvious that there need to be restrictions on how much money can be given as “in kind” or even direct contributions to a specific candidate…again restricted to the same amount as is currently allowable by state law. The imposition of these two provisions would effectively eliminate the large contributions given by leadership (Democrat and Republican) to their parties and thus would take them out of the relatively recent practice of being the main campaign fundraisers for candidates.
But the Easley testimony points to another reform needed. The Governor reported that he had never seen a campaign report to the best of his knowledge. While we can understand that much goes on in a campaign and that the candidate must be the one connecting with voters and probably not directly involved in all the decisions for expenditures, but the candidate should be the person with ultimate responsibility to ensure that his or her campaign abides by not only the letter but the intent of the law. After all, if a corporation breaks the law it is generally the CEO who takes the fall, either by being fired or going to trial. The same should be the case with candidates and we are informed this isn`t necessarily true now.
Further, we would pass a law saying that each candidate must personally sign a statement to the effect that he or she has reviewed the campaign finance report and it is true to the best of their knowledge. This requires that they at least read what is being submitted to the state.
We won`t likely know the end result of this action today but we repeat that it is a sad commentary on our political system and process when so much time and energy must be spent exposing people who don`t do the right thing. Look for a discussion about the state of ethics in our state on this week`s NC SPIN and a full recap and evaluation on next week`s program.
Wake school runoff: Common sense runs counter to the law
Despite the fact that the second place finisher in District 2 has announced she concedes the election, is withdrawing from the race and will not serve if elected, a runoff election will be held next Tuesday for the post. Why? The State Board of Elections says there isn`t a process for stopping the election after a candidate has called for a runoff. Wake County will spend about $30,000 on printing ballots, manning polls and counting the vote.
But not all are unhappy with the State Board`s verdict, including the NAACP. They, and other groups, are planning a big get out the vote effort to see that the apparent winner of the election will not be seated. We took a look at a sample ballot and there is a place for a write-in candidate to receive votes. How can this be in a runoff election between two candidates, you ask? After all the general election was held and these two candidates emerged as the top two vote getters. How could a write-in candidate possibly be allowed to win?
This could become another interesting topic for discussion but we hear a write-in campaign could be underway on behalf of the current board member who was defeated in the first vote for the seat. One observer remarked that people were too complacent the first time and now they recognize the need to turn out the vote to preserve the diversity policy of Wake Schools.
I don`t know about you but this looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Belk to be removed
Mecklenburg District Judge Bill Belk, from the storied retail family, told the Charlotte Observer that the Judicial Standards Commission will recommend he be removed from the bench. Belk is outraged.
Let us see if we understand your position Judge Belk. On the one hand you are arrogant enough to insist upon maintaining your position on corporate boards and verbally lambasting the Chief District Court Judge but on the other hand think you should be allowed to pass judgment on the common folk who come before you. Is that pretty much it, Judge Belk? Go figure why the Judicial Standards Commission should ever have a problem with this. The Supremes will make the ultimate decision but we suspect they won`t be impressed with Belk`s position.
Is Soles another heel?
Don Carrington reports in today`s Carolina Journal that a 47 year-old man has come forward to accuse Senator R. C. Soles of sexually molesting him when he was 13 years old. The report says that Soles took him to his lakefront home, plied him with alcohol, then molested him. Why hasn`t he reported this before now? He claims Soles threatened him, saying that if he (the victim) ever said anything about it Soles would make his life “hell.”
The power of technology
We have to report on the son of our Editor, Claire Cox-Woodlief. Jonathan, an eighth grader, wasn`t happy about the new changes on Facebook (if you have to ask, you wouldn`t understand anyway) and logged on to a Facebook group protesting the changes. He noticed that the administrator`s role in the group had been vacated and signed up. What happened next is something you would expect in a Hollywood movie. People from all over the country and the world have heard about the group and logged on. Media outlets from all over are calling for interviews.
Facebook created the social network phenomenon. Now they have to deal with the consequences of it. Sweet justice, eh?
Will you help cure Juvenile Diabetes?
Longtime readers of this newsletter will know that our grandson, Hart, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes several years ago. Now 15 years old, Hart has to frequently monitor his blood glucose levels and inject insulin into his body to maintain proper levels. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation raises money to speed up the process of finding a cure for the millions of young people who have this disease and 80 percent of the contributions they receive go directly to research.
Once each year we ask you for help. Our family joins thousands of others in a Walk to the Cure, which this year will be held November 7th. We have set a goal for raising $2,500 and today we are 43 percent of the way in achieving our goal. Would you be willing to help us? We will match your donation dollar for dollar for the next $1,000. You can contribute now. Our family thanks you for your generous help.
More ways to watch
If you ever miss the telecast (or radio broadcast) of NC SPIN, here`s good news. You can view each week`s show via webcast. It`s easy. Just go to www.NCSPIN.com and click on the “view webcast” button under the webcast box on the upper left hand side of the home page. Shows are updated by noon each Sunday. Archived copies of the show are available there too so you can go back and catch up on any shows that you have missed. Tell your friends!
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Until next week, watch out for the SPIN!
Claire Cox-Woodlief, Editor
Tom Campbell. Publisher
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