News: CJ Exclusives

Perdue Calls Campaign Violations ‘Inexcusable,’ But Won’t Identify Offenders

Year-end press conference covers variety of issues

Gov. Bev Perdue called the actions of members of her 2004 and 2008 campaign staff who did not report free campaign flights “inexcusable,” but would not identify who committed the legal violations that led to a $30,000 criminal fine by the State Board of Elections. Nor would she say if anyone has been held accountable for those violations.

Perdue answered questions on a wide range of issues, including campaign finance violations, the economy, the budget, education, economic development, government reorganization, and relations with the General Assembly, at a year-end press conference at the Executive Mansion Wednesday. She invited members of the state press corps to a similar event last year.

The elections board fined Perdue in August after investigator Kim Strach found the Perdue Committee failed to report more than 40 flights during her 2004 campaign for lieutenant governor and 2008 campaign for governor. An investigation of the flights led by Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby and the State Bureau of Investigation is ongoing. Perdue restated Wednesday that she is convinced no one inside the committee intentionally violated the law.

Perdue did not say who inside the campaign was responsible for failing to report the flights. Strach released two reports in the summer identifying several campaign donors and “aircraft providers” who gave free and unreported flights to Perdue. The governor appointed several of those named in the report or listed in documents the Perdue Committee provided by the elections board to state boards or commissions. Peter Reichard, Perdue’s 2008 campaign finance director, and Morganton businessman Mike Fulenwider (an aircraft provider) are on the state Economic Development Board; Cress Horne, owner of U.S. Helicopters in Wingate, Winston-Salem aircraft owner Norman Wiginton, and Raleigh aircraft owner Larry Wagner are on the N.C. Aeronautics Council.

Perdue said she had no plans to either take action against those named in the elections board reports or prevent them from taking a role in a possible re-election campaign. “If you were mentioned by the elections board or were found guilty by the elections board it might be one thing,” she said. “I don’t know that because the press has written something about you that you have been proved of doing something wrong.”

A major accomplishment, Perdue said, was a change in the law this year making it a felony for a donor to make a campaign contribution in the name of another. She also cited additional safeguards she has implemented, including the development of detailed travel logs when she flew either on commercial or private aircraft, and the recruitment of a “really professional compliance organization” to monitor her future campaigns.

If she does seek re-election, she said, “I want [the campaign] to be absolutely perfect, because this has really been difficult for me personally.”

Alcoa controversy

Perdue said she hoped the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would rescind the license issued to Alcoa Power Generating Industries to operate four hydroelectric dams along the Yadkin River in central North Carolina. “I hope Alcoa loses,” she said.

The governor has spearheaded an attempt to take over the dams and nearly 40,000 acres of adjacent lakefront property. The dams generate electricity to power an aluminum smelting plant in Badin that closed nearly a decade ago. “I don’t believe there is any derivative benefit to the people of North Carolina with Alcoa owning the rights to the water and the electricity,” she said. “I don’t know what economic sense it makes to allow a foreign-owned company to own that water.” (Editor’s note: Alcoa has mining operations in eight countries but has its principal office in New York City and its operational headquarters in Pittsburgh.)

Charter schools

A priority for the incoming Republican majority is abolishing the state’s cap on charter schools, now set at 100. Perdue would not say if she would veto a bill ending that cap if it reached her desk.

Citing new legislation allowing school districts to set up “charter-like” schools that would operate under looser regulations while remaining under district control, along with options students have to attend magnets and other nontraditional public schools, Perdue suggested that the cap on charters may be an impediment to school reform no longer. She also said that charter schools were not a priority for her in the 2011 legislative session. “Schools can do a lot with the freedom they now have,” she said.

Global TransPark

The Global TransPark Authority near Kinston owes the state’s Escheats Fund nearly $40 million and has no way to repay the debt. Perdue said she hoped to review an “outline” of a repayment plan over the Christmas holidays.

She said she hopes to announce at least one major new tenant for the industrial park in the coming months. But immediately retiring the debt could “bankrupt the enterprise,” and she does not want to risk that “just as it is starting to take off.”

ABC privatization

Asked about her suggestion that the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system could be sold or privatized, Perdue said she “cannot defend as a core [function] of North Carolina [government] an ABC system.” Before proposing specific ABC reforms to the General Assembly, Perdue said she will review a revised report on the economic value of the system that she expects to receive in the coming weeks.

Rick Henderson is managing editor of Carolina Journal.