Clues to the whereabouts of the elusive Gov. Mike Easley often can be found in the friendly skies in aircraft flown by an Elizabethtown businessman and his sons, aviation and anonymous sources say.
The businessman, Dallas McQueen “Mac” Campbell Jr. and his sons, all pilots, quietly have been providing free, private and low-key air transportation for Easley for years, the sources said.
The gratis air transportation for Easley started during his campaign for governor in 2000 and continued through this year. The trips included flights in North Carolina and outside the state.
Campbell’s son, Dallas McQueen Campbell, III, who goes by McQueen, coordinates the majority of the flying now. McQueen, who lives in Raleigh, is a real-estate developer and chairman of the N.C. State University Board of Trustees.
A source, who asked to remain unidentified, reported that McQueen boasted of flying the governor as frequently as once a week, and that the value of the flights totaled as much as $200,000 per year. Some of the trips were to Florida and New York for recreational purposes, the source said.
Easley does not publish a schedule of his whereabouts and few details about his travels are released to the public.
Since the Highway Patrol provides security for the governor, travel and expense records of security personnel might provide clues to understanding the governor’s travels. When a reporter asked for access to the records, said spokesman Capt. Everett Clendenin. “We believe that information is protected and we will not disclose it.”
Earlier this year, CJ reported questionable uses by Easley of state-owned aircraft. The aircraft are managed by the N.C. Department of Commerce and include a 14-passenger Sikorsky helicopter, an 11- passenger Beechcraft King Air turbo-prop, and an eight-passenger Cessna Citation jet.
An analysis of four years of records showed that two-thirds of Easley’s trips involved planned or actual connections to the coast in Brunswick County, where he owns two homes.
The analysis also showed unexplained gaps in Easley’s travel. A state aircraft often was dispatched to Brunswick County to pick him up at the beginning of the week, but it was unclear how he got there. He often was transported to the coast at the end of the week, but it was unclear how he got back to Raleigh.
Some of the flights piloted by the Campbells reportedly were provided for Easley during his gubernatorial campaign in 2000.
“It was common knowledge in the Aviation Division that Mac Campbell was providing air transportation for Easley in 2000,” said Mark Esposito, a former DOT airport development engineer. Esposito, who was based in Raleigh, oversaw airport development for about one-fourth of the state’s airports, including the Elizabethtown Airport where the Campbell family’s twin-engine Piper airplane was based.
Minutes of a June 2003 council meeting of the Lumbee Tribe also reported a similar connection between Easley and the Campbells. According to the minutes, Jason Lowry of Pembroke offered some background on Mac Campbell, who had been a trustee of UNC Pembroke.
“But I call your attention to one man, Mac Campbell. The governor appointed Mac Campbell from Elizabethtown, North Carolina, on this DOT Board. And I understand Mac is a wealthy person with a plane who flew the Governor around on his campaign trips,” the minutes record Lowry as saying.
Reached by phone last week, Lowry confirmed that he knew Campbell and that he had made the statement.
Political campaigns are permitted to use private aircraft for transportation, but campaign officials must report the value as an in-kind expenditure subject to the contribution limits. A campaign also may hire a private aircraft for a fair hourly rate and report the payment as a normal campaign expenditure.
Easley’s campaign reports for the 2000 and 2004 election show no in-kind contributions or expenditures related to the use of aircraft owned by the Campbells.
Campbell family members are active political contributors. Since 1992 they have contributed more than $100,000 to state or local candidates. They contributed more than $31,000 to Easley’s campaigns for governor in 2000 and 2004, and his attorney general campaigns before that.
Easley appointed Mac Campbell to the N.C. Board of Transportation. He appointed McQueen Campbell to the N.C. State University Board of Trustees. He appointed another son, Brian Campbell, to the Aeronautics Council, the state’s aviation advisory board. All three Campbells are pilots.
In addition to the twin-engine Piper airplane, Brian Campbell owns two single-engine aircraft also based at the Elizabethtown Airport. McQueen Campbell owns three aircraft based at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. They are a two-person F-1 Rocket experimental-class airplane and a four-person Cirrus airplane, both owned under the name of his company Raleighwood Aircraft. In addition he owns and is licensed to fly a four-seat Robinson Helicopter held under the name of Raleigh Helicopter.
Records eventually might be released
When asked about the Highway Patrol’s refusal to to allow a reporter to review records about Easley’s travels, candidates in this year’s gubernatorial race said the records should be released.
“We have to bend over backwards to beat the perception of corruption. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and one of the obligations of state employees is full disclosure of travel and expenses,” said Libertarian candidate Mike Munger.
“As Governor, Bev will make government more transparent and open and will insist that state agencies be expected to fulfill public records requests,” said Tim Crowley, spokesman for Democratic candidate Beverly Perdue.
Jack Hawke, speaking for Republican candidate Pat McCrory said, “The culture of secrecy in state government has to change and that change will be one of the first items on a McCrory agenda. As Mayor, Pat has made all his records public and he will do the same as Governor. Pat’s schedule will be made available and the records of any state employee traveling with him will be public record.”
“As to Governor Easley’s records, there is no reason to keep past records from public scrutiny. If that requires a directive to the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, it will be done. However, a McCrory administration will be completely transparent and not require a special directive,” Hawke said.
When asked by a reporter about the extent of the governor’s excursions with the Campbells, Easley spokeswoman Renee Hoffman, did not respond.
Neither McQueen Campbell nor his father responded to numerous phone calls and e-mails seeking comment about the reports.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.