by Bob Geary
By a 5-0 vote, the State Board of Elections this morning sent the issue of who's lying, former Gov. Mike Easley or his friend McQueen Campbell, to the Wake County District Attorney for review. The Board's resolution referred to evidence heard during its four days of hearings this week that, "if believed, would tend to indicate that criminal violations of the state election laws and campaign finance laws have occurred." The resolution named Easley personally, "and perhaps others" -- an apparent reference to Campbell.
Easley's lawyer, Tommy Hicks, says he expects Wake D.A. Colon Willoughby will send the case on to the Attorney General's office because of Willoughby's longstanding friendship with Easley, including the fact that Willoughby employed Easley's son, Michael, as an intern in his office.
The Board voted to fine Easley's campaign committee at total of $100,000 for failing to report private air travel to which Easley was treated while running for and serving in the Governor's office. The total includes $40,000 for the cost of the hearings, Chairman Larry Leake said.
Whether the Easley campaign can pay the fine is uncertain, since -- given its legal bills -- it's effectively broke. That's a problem, Leake said, that the General Assembly should address. On his motion, the Board voted 5-0 to ask legislators to change the law so that if a candidate's committee can't pay such fines, the candidate himself or herself would be on the hook for them.
The Board levied another $9,000 fine against the North Carolina Democratic Party based on testimony from two witnesses that their contributions -- which totaled $9,000 -- were "earmarked" for the Easley campaign. But on the larger issue raised by Democracy North Carolina, a progressive watchdog group, that Easley set up a "shadow campaign" within the party apparatus for the purpose of circumventing the law limiting individual contributions to candidates, the Board took a pass.
After the session, Republican appointee Bill Peaslee, a former chief of state at the N.C. Republican Party, told reporters he disagreed with that last outcome. Did he think, as Democracy NC alleged, that there was a "grand scheme" within the Easley campaign to have the party launder contributions in excess of the $4,000 limit? "Oh, absolutely," Peaslee said.