News: CJ Exclusives

Witnesses Can’t Recall Much in Second Day of Easley Hearings

Charlotte developer, Easley’s former treasurer testify about relationships

Forgetfulness was a recurring theme through a second day of a hearing Tuesday in the North Carolina Board of Elections’ ongoing investigation into alleged campaign finance wrongdoing by former Gov. Mike Easley.

In response to dozens of questions from lawyers and board members, four witnesses testified they couldn’t remember much about their political and personal relationships with the former governor, including details about fundraising strategies, campaign donations, and political patronage.

The hearings were in stark contrast to the day before, when witnesses offered a variety of anecdotes and tidbits about Easley’s conduct while in office, such as accusations that Easley diverted campaign funds to repair his personal residence in Raleigh.

Two of the Easley campaign’s former top aides, treasurer Dave Horne and finance director Michael Hayden, dominated the hearing Tuesday, testifying for nearly four hours combined. Both had hazy memories about how the campaign used its funds.

Horne testified the longest — nearly two and a half hours — under intense questioning about campaign donations during Easley’s tenure as attorney general and governor. The most common line of questioning centered on the Easley campaign’s alleged pattern of funneling donations to the campaign through the state party and Democratic Governors Association.

Board member Charles Winfree provided a memo from former Easley campaign manager Jay Reiff describing a loophole that Reiff said allowed contributors who had donated the maximum allowed by law to pass additional funds through the state party. Reiff recommended that the Easley campaign take advantage of that option.

“It’s my understanding that the Democratic Party can make unlimited contributions to campaign committees,” Horne replied. “I think [the memo refers] to that fact. I believe that was the law in 2000 and continues to be the law today.”

Reiff wrote in the memo that channeling funds through the party was a “coordinated campaign add-on.” Horne said he didn’t recall discussing that term with anyone.

Horne also didn’t know much about frequent flights for the former governor by McQueen Campbell, a long-time Easley friend, aside from a June 2005 memo from Campbell requesting compensation for air travel.

Horne testified that he asked assistant treasurer Rebecca McGhee “to get additional information about [the invoice] … some verification that it was an obligation of the committee.”

McGhee then spoke directly with Easley, who told her to pay the invoice without additional backup documentation, Horne said. Horne then agreed to pay the invoice.

Michael Hayden, Easley’s former campaign finance director, was sworn in after the board excused Horne for the day. Hayden testified that Easley’s campaign never had a compliance director to ensure the legality of campaign donations.

He said he couldn’t recall flying on a plane with Campbell, but he knew Campbell was a pilot. When the governor’s staff had a shortage of pilots, Campbell “would be a person” they called.

“I don’t recall ever knowing that he specifically provided” flights, Hayden said. “I knew he was piloting planes that the governor was on.”

The board’s hearing wrapped up with testimony from former Easley adviser Mac McCorkle and Gary Allen, a Charlotte developer who owned one of the companies that developed Cannonsgate, the coastal community where the Easleys got a special deal on a lot.

Allen acknowledged making two checks for $50,000 to the state Democratic Party, but his assumption was that Easley and others would benefit from it.

He said the donations had nothing to do with efforts to get a boat ramp and day dock permit for a coastal development approved.

McCorkle testified that he wasn’t involved in fundraising or campaign operations, and was called on to listen to Easley vent about his troubles with campaign staff.

Board chairman Larry Leake ended the meeting an hour early due to an impending meeting with the state’s attorneys, likely over former Easley attorney Ruffin Poole’s legal challenge to the election board’s subpoena compelling Poole to testify.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.