News: CJ Exclusives

Ballance Pledged Money to Center

State funds intended for substance abuse would have been used for conference facility

U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance pledged $10,000 from the embattled John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation toward the Buck Spring Leadership Excellence Center, a Warren County conference facility in the planning stages.

The foundation, which Ballance chairs, has received more than $2 million in state money for substance-abuse programs. But last year, an investigation by Carolina Journal and a special review by State Auditor Ralph Campbell uncovered that the foundation’s spending was totally controlled by Ballance and often went for items unrelated to substance abuse. Ballance, a former state senator from Warrenton, steered money to the foundation through a committee he served on. CJ also found that the foundation failed to file required annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service.

The pledge was made about four months before CJ’s first story about Ballance’s foundation appeared one year ago. The pledge does not appear to have been paid.

A spreadsheet obtained by CJ documented Ballance’s $10,000 pledge to the Buck Spring project. In the note column beside the Ballance pledge was the notation,“Substance abuse foundation which he controls will contribute.”

Notes accompanying the spreadsheet indicated it was a tally of pledges and payments as of Jan. 16, 2003. The documents originated from Creative Campaign Consultants, a political fund-raising firm located in Raleigh.

In December 2002, supporters of U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton, D-1st District, held a retirement dinner for her. The event was promoted as a tribute to her with contributions going to the Buck Spring project, which she was supporting. Creative Campaign Consultants organized the event. Both Clayton and Ballance have used Creative Campaign for their political fund-raising. Warren County, which will own and operate the facility, is paying the firm to raise money for the project.

The project has been described in news stories as a conference center, special event center, and youth camp. The site is situated near Lake Gaston on what was part of a plantation owned by former U.S. Speaker of the House Nathaniel Macon. The total cost estimate for Phase I is more than $3.9 million. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing a $1.5 million low-interest loan and $500,000 in a grant. The remainder of the money, almost $2 million, is to come from a fund-raising campaign led by Carolyn Ross-Holmes, chairwoman of the Buck Spring Management Team, and Creative Campaign consultants. The N.C. Agricultural & Technical Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with the Greensboro state university, is being used as a collection depository for the fund-raising campaign.

Research by CJ shows that the fund-raising is far short of the goal. As of April 15, the amount on deposit with the NC A&T foundation earmarked for Buck Spring was $301,731.

The Hyman Foundation received a scathing review by the state auditor last year. While the audit uncovered more than $300,000 in questionable spending it did not uncover the $10,000 Buck Spring pledge. Federal and state investigations are being conducted and a federal grand jury has interviewed Ballance’s associates and family members. The foundation has terminated its substance-abuse counseling program and state Attorney General Roy Cooper has ordered the foundation not to spend any funds.

Don Carrington is associate publisher of Carolina Journal.