Easley funds go to lawyers

November 4, 2009 9:00:00 PM PST
Last month, the North Carolina State Board of Elections slapped former Governor Mike Easley with a $100,000 fine and referred his case to a prosecutor after investigating flights Easley took on the private planes of supporters.$60,000 of that was for the flights, the other $40,000 was to help taxpayers reclaim the cost of doing the investigation. But Easley is not on the hook for the money. His campaign is, and the campaign is broke.

"The Easley Committee is struggling," explained Easley Committee Attorney John Wallace after the Board's hearing.

But the campaign started the year with $427,000 in the bank, so where did the money go?

Campaign finance reports show Wallace's law firm Wallace and Nordan collected almost $73,000 from the Easley Committee in the first six months alone - that was four months before the State Board of Elections held its hearing on Easley.

A law firm in Greensboro collected another $50,000, and the firm of Poynter Spruill got $100,000 in legal retainers.

All that money - about $223 thousand in all - came from the donations of people who contributed money to elect Easley to the governorship in 2000 and 2004.

If the campaign can't pay the fines imposed by the State Board of Elections, then taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the investigation.

"North Carolina taxpayers are going to get ripped off yet again, because the Easley Committee has no money to pay the fines," offered Democratic strategist Joe Sinsheimer.

After fining Easley, the Elections Board asked for a change in state law. It wants politicians themselves - not their campaigns - to be held responsible if they're fined by the board in the future and their campaigns are broke.

It's now up to the North Carolina Legislature to decide if politicians should be held more accountable in the future.

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