Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH—Halifax Community College President Ted Gasper used state government resources to raise money for the congressional campaign of Rep. Frank Ballance of Warrenton, a transcript of telephone conversations shows.
Documents also show that Gasper and others also planned to funnel corporate contributions though the Alice Eason Ballance Education and Justice Foundation, a nonprofit organization that Ballance, a Democrat, set up in October 2001, a few months before he filed to run for the U.S. House. Corporate contributions to political campaigns are illegal in North Carolina, according to campaign finance laws.
Ballance, a former North Carolina state senator, was elected to Congress in November 2002. The John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation, another nonprofit founded by Ballance, is being investigated by state authorities for failure to fully account for almost $2 million in state funds he had secured since 1993. Federal authorities also launched an investigation because the foundation failed to file required Internal Revenue Service annual reports.
On Jan. 15, 2003 Gasper, who had named himself chairman of the Finance Committee for Rep. Ballance’s Congressional Ball, convened a meeting of the Initial Finance Committee at the college in Weldon in Room 107 from noon to 1:30 p.m. “You have been selected to serve on the Finance Committee for Congressman Ballance’s Congressional Ball,” read the notice. Records obtained by Carolina Journal indicate that at least four planning meetings were conducted at the college.
Notices of the meeting were sent Jan. 10 to prospective committee members via e-mail from a state computer by Odell Holliday, Gasper’s executive secretary. One item of correspondence indicated that Ballance was closely involved in the planning process. “Dr. Gasper and Alex met with Congressman Ballance last night to get the final detail and tickets have to be purchased...” read a message at the bottom of a list of potential committee members.
Before the Jan. 15 meeting, more details of the fundraising plan unfolded in a recorded telephone conversation between Gasper and Halifax Community College math instructor Alex Thannikkary and Weldon Mayor Johnny Draper, the transcript shows. According to several sources, Gasper routinely tape-recorded his telephone conversations. Gasper asked Holliday to transcribe the conversation.
Holliday was transferred from her job after she refused to do any more political work for Ballance, sources told CJ. She was reassigned to the Scotland Neck branch of the college.
Copies of the transcript and supporting documents were distributed to Halifax Community College Board of Trustees at one of their official meetings, sources said. CJ obtained a copy of the transcript.
In addition to discussing ticket prices, location, and the other details, Gasper, Thannikkary, and Draper discussed a plan to raise money from businesses for Ballance’s campaign, the 13-page transcript shows. A review of the discussion makes it clear that the three planners understood the restrictions of the campaign finance law.
The following is part of how the conversation went, according to the transcript:
Thannikkary: “Then, Frank Ballance has an idea that he wants the proceeds to go to the Alice Eason Ballance Education and Justice Foundation so that is tax-deductible.“
Gasper: “It is a 501(3c) so that makes a big difference,” Gasper said.
Thannikkary: “That makes it more attractive. And then, I think that the further discussion that once we decide we are going to have some kind of publicity for the corporation we will have their name tag on the table...”
Gasper: “Back to his comment that John made as it relates to the corporate table, I would think that we would have a set of companies in town who could support being corporate sponsors for more than $1,000...”
Thannikkary: “Concern regarding the money going to his mother.”
Gasper: “It is his mother. Alex and I were talking about that coming back. I don’t know how he is planning to get it out of the foundation into campaign expense and I have not asked him that question and that is what I need to probe into. When we started the discussion Frank had to loan the campaign $150,000 prior to the election so that I think one of the goals is to try to get as much of the $150,000.”
Draper: “It has to be an ongoing project, in my opinion. It is an expensive proposition to stay in office.”
Gasper: “I understand the money was for that expense not for some foundation for his mother to take care of, that is my understanding, and I will verify that.”
As the conversation continued, Gasper said, “In the beginning we were thinking that a $1,000 a table is what we needed to do for corporate sponsors and I talked with Fred Yates and jokingly said we wanted to sell the Northeast Partnership a table for $5,000 and that he surely would take it and he would take a $3,500 himself. So we readjusted our figure.”
In closing, Gasper said, “I have some clarification which we change gears. There is some provision in the election code that corporate dollars cannot be given to candidates for Congress — corporate dollars. That’s the reason for the foundation. Corporate dollars can go to the foundation. The rest of the dollars is going to have to be two different kind of tickets and two different kinds of checks because the money, the money for the campaign that has to be made for Ballance for Congress and has to be a personal check. The corporate checks can be made to the foundation. The foundation can pick up the expense for providing the event. So, the idea is that we are going to sell tickets to individuals that makes it tax deductible is a bad idea. It is going to be a donation to Ballance for Congress — two kinds of tickets for two kinds of money and Alex, that is where we got sidetracked, where we call it a reception and a ball so the reception, we would get tickets for corporate sponsors — we would sell tickets to corporate sponsors for the reception and will be made out to the Alice Ballance Foundation — that money will be used to offset the expense for providing the reception and the ball which come as one event....”
The Articles Of Incorporation for the Alice Eason Ballance Education and Justice Foundation were filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office Oct. 10, 2001. The registered agent for the organization is Frank Ballance, and the principal address of the foundation is 113 W. Market St. in Warrenton — Ballance’s law office.
The 10 board members include his mother, Alice E. Ballance; his son, Warren County District Judge Garey M. Ballance; and his wife, Bernadine S. Ballance, a lawyer and member of the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
The stated purposes of the foundation are “to engage in activities and promote programs designed for the educational, intellectual and social development of young people residing in Eastern North Carolina...,” and to “promote Equal Justice under the rule of law for all people; particularly poor and historically oppressed people,” and “to recognize the contributions of Alice E. Ballance who has dedicated her life to helping others, to the community, state, and nation.”
CJ was unable to determine whether the foundation has applied for or received tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization. Phone calls to discuss the foundation’s activities were made to foundation board members Norman Mebane and Shelton Barnes, both from Windsor. Messages left on answering machines were not returned.
(Three PDF files contains images of the actual transcript and emails: Transcript, Email1, and Email2.)
A previous Gasper controversy
Gasper was arrested in December 2000 on a charge of driving while intoxicated. The arresting officer’s report stated that Gasper drove in a jerking motion, crossed the center line of the highway, and failed to wear a seat belt.
On March 27, 2001 the Halifax Community College Board of Trustees voted to dismiss Gasper, but not under a “terminate for cause” provision. The board, at the time with a majority of members being white, voted to terminate him effective two years from the day the vote was taken.
Within a few weeks of that vote the Halifax County Branch of the NAACP called for what they said would be better and more diverse representation on the college board. “We in the NAACP do support Dr. Gasper,” said Sammy Webb, lawyer for the civil rights group, as reported by the Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald. Gasper is white, but according to news stories, had strong support among area black leaders. NAACP Branch President John B. Moore called on Gov. Mike Easley to appoint more minorities to the board.
There are 12 board members, four appointed by the governor, four by the local school systems, and four by the county commissioners.
In July 2001 trial police officers testified that Gasper had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, could not properly use a hand-held breath tester, and claimed he had a collapsed lung when he failed several attempts to breathe into an alcohol detection device. Judge H. Paul McCoy decided that the state’s case was not strong enough and ruled in Gasper’s favor.
In November 2001 a new board, now having a black majority, overruled the previous decision and renewed Gasper’s contract for four years.
Board member and former Chairwoman Suetta Scarbrough resigned after the vote. “I was outraged that his contracted was renewed,” she told CJ when interviewed for this story.
Attempts by CJ to contact Gasper were unsuccessful. However, when asked for the school’s spokesperson, CJ was directed to Pam Ballew, director of institutional advancement for Halifax Community College.
Ballew was unaware of any fundraising meetings for Ballance that took place at the school. She said she thought that political groups could not use the facilities unless they paid a rental fee. She also said that she was unaware of Gasper’s involvement with the fundraising meetings and that she would try to locate Gasper and have him return CJ’s call.
She also said Thannikkary was out of the country for the summer.
Draper did not return phone calls.
Reached by telephone, Halifax Community College Board Chairman Kenneth Brantley acknowledged that the use of college resources or personnel for political purposes was a violation of state law. He refused to discuss the situation and abruptly hung up the phone. Another board member, the Rev. Robert Knight, also refused to discuss the situation.
After being asked specifically about the foundation and the fundraising activities at the college, Ballance’s congressional office communications director Joanna Kuebler issued the following response:
“To: Don Carrington,
“The Congressman believes that non-profits and faith-based organizations are an essential component to a community’s well- being, especially in rural, minority areas. They provide resources to communities that often are overlooked in budgetary processes when substance abuse, mental health, community development, and other such dollars are being directed towards big-city projects.
“In addition to meeting the needs of rural and minority families and their communities, local faith-based and nonprofit organizations save North Carolina immeasurable dollars through prevention and intervention.
“Your consistent hostility towards rural faith-based organizations, and programs that largely serve this population such as SMART START and Golden LEAF, makes it clear your organization is opposed to these groups. While I respect your right to disagree, the views your organization continues to express have created an environment wherein it is inappropriate to continue further dialogue."
Carrington is associate publisher of Carolina Journal.