Opinion: Daily Journal

Why Shouldn’t I Believe Them?

RALEIGH – I believe them. Why shouldn’t I?

I believe Raleigh attorney John Wallace and other representatives of Beverly Perdue’s political team when they say there was no intent to mislead voters or evade state law by failing to report dozens of free flights Perdue took during her 2004 and 2008 campaigns.

The Democratic majority on North Carolina’s state board of elections also believe Perdue’s political team, which is why the board chose to impose the maximum $30,000 fine for late campaign reporting and end its probe of the matter – rather than holding hearings, putting Perdue’s aides under oath, and investigating whether costlier punishments were warranted for intentional evasion of campaign-finance laws.

I believe Wallace’s explanation that the reason the Perdue team had failed to report the 42 flights was because the campaign kept sloppy records. I believe this explanation despite the fact that, as the initial inquiry by board of elections investigator Kim Strach revealed, the Perdue campaign kept meticulous records of her travels.

I believe Wallace’s claim that there was a pervasive lack of communication among Perdue aides about the issue of flight reimbursement. I believe this claim despite copious evidence, some of it in correspondence dating to the fall of 2008, that Perdue aides had extensive internal communication about the issue of flight reimbursement.

I believe Wallace’s assertion that at the time, in the fall of 2008, the campaign did not know Buzzy Stubbs, a New Bern attorney, had paid for $28,000 worth of campaign flights. I believe Wallace even though he was legal counsel to the Perdue campaign at the time and clearly had personal knowledge of Stubbs’ unpaid bill, which amounted to a very large and illegal campaign contribution.

The timing requires some explanation. On October 20, 2008, Carolina Journal reported that then-Gov. Mike Easley had received free flights from political supporters during his 2000 and 2004 campaigns. The flights had not been reported and amounted to campaign contributions from corporations (which are illegal) and/or contributions above the legal limit for individual donations. Within hours, Wallace – who had also acted as legal counsel for the Easley campaign – was fielding calls from other reporters on the matter.

The story spread through the political world. Stubbs was obviously affected by it. On Oct. 23, 2008, he sent a letter to the Perdue campaign explaining that he personally had reimbursed his law firm $28,000 for flights on aircraft the firm chartered. He then apparently tried to make that donation an in-kind contribution to the North Carolina Democratic Party, perhaps in an attempt to avoid putting the Perdue campaign in legal jeopardy.

Wallace responded to the letter the next day – but not as counsel to Easley or Perdue. This time, he acted as counsel to the state Democratic Party, and informed Stubbs that the party could not accept his in-kind contribution.

That was the end of any timely attempts to fix the problem. The flights Stubbs paid for weren’t disclosed by the Perdue campaign until the summer of 2009. For his part, Wallace later told Strach, the board of elections investigator, that the Perdue campaign didn’t reimburse Stubbs for the flights in 2008 because it didn’t know he had paid for them.

I believe Wallace. Why shouldn’t I?

As for the chairman and executive director of the state board of elections, Larry Leake and Gary Bartlett respectively, I believe them when they deny any attempt to cover all this up by limiting whom Strach could interview, how she could conduct her interviews, and excluding these limitations from her initial report.

I believe them when they say that the decision not to launch a broader investigation, putting Perdue aides under oath to determine whether there was a conspiracy to evade the law and mislead voters during the 2008 campaign, was based solely on their assumption that there was no such conspiracy, not on their desire to protect a sitting governor from further political damage.

I believe the matter is now settled. Thank goodness, because I need to hurry home and put a tooth under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.