Two investigative reports released last week by the N.C. Office of the State Auditor found that State Treasurer Richard Moore and Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue used government resources to further their campaigns for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
In September 2007, Perdue and Moore asked State Auditor Les Merritt to investigate whether the other candidate illegally used taxpayer funded resources for political purposes. State law prohibits state employees from using government resources for campaigns or participating in political activity while on duty.
A press release from the state auditor on Jan. 31 said that investigators found in both cases “activity that rose above a reasonable personal use to a level of active participation in political campaigns.”
Merritt found “significant evidence” that four Department of State Treasurer employees used government computers for political campaigning on behalf of Moore. Staff members visited Web sites for political-action committees, polling consultants, and the N.C. Democratic Party’s voter database, Merritt said.
Auditors also found 53 political documents on state-owned computers, including campaign contact lists and speeches, and about 60 e-mails discussing campaign issues sent between employees of the Treasurer’s Office and Moore’s campaign staff.
“It appears State Treasurer employees accessed these e-mails on state computers using private e-mail accounts and often responded to these e-mails on their state computers,” Merritt said.
A spokeswoman for the State Treasurer’s Office admitted that some accessed Web materials and e-mails were inappropriate, but maintained that most of the documents and e-mails in question were related to the department’s official duties.
In a letter dated Jan. 24, Moore’s chief of staff and general counsel, Stacey Phipps, criticized the audit’s conclusions and claimed “serious problems” with the investigation.
“While we acknowledge based upon our review of the documents you provided following your forensic analysis that a total of nine emails during three years’ worth of data you reviewed were arguably ‘political,’ this hardly constitutes evidence of ‘significant’ political activity,” Phipps wrote.
The audit recommended the state treasurer discipline employees connected with the campaign material and better monitor the activities of staff members.
A second investigative report, prompted by a complaint by Moore against Perdue, recommended that Perdue remove a private Internet connection in the Office of Lieutenant Governor that was installed in May 2005 and funded by Perdue’s campaign committee.
On Jan. 24, Perdue told Merritt in a letter that her staff disconnected the Internet connection two months ago. Perdue also said her chief of staff and general counsel “will hold regular briefings with staff to ensure that all of my office are clear on the laws relating to political activity and state offices.”
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.