Councilwoman’s campaign finance reporting questioned

by Jordan Green

A law student with ties to Greensboro has requested an official inquiry into whether Greensboro Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw violated state campaign finance law by failing to identify the source of 13 $100 contributions during her successful 2007 campaign.

Andrew T. Murphy, who filed the March 24 request with the NC Board of Elections, is the founder of Stand Up Greensboro PAC, a progressive committee that charges that sitting council members “engage in overheated rhetoric and rehash the same tired arguments over and over again [while] Greensboro languishes and further falls behind competing cities around the nation, threatening to derail our city’s social and economic vibrancy.” Stand Up Greensboro identifies Rakestraw, along with fellow Republican councilwoman Trudy Wade, as “candidates to beat” on its website, and is raising money to publish a print advertisement calling Rakestraw “wrong for Greensboro.” Murphy notes that the Committee for Mary Rakestraw did not report the names, addresses, occupations and employers of 13 contributors who wrote $100 checks to the candidate. The Rakestraw committee’s 2007 year-end semiannual report lists the $100 checks on a form reserved for aggregate individual contributions that explicitly states “optional form used to report NC contributions from individuals of $50 or less.”

The $1,300 total in unidentified contributions represents only 7.7 percent of the total funds raised by Rakestraw in her 2007 campaign. Rakestraw said Monday that was unaware of any problems with her reports. “The statutory requirement is that for any contributions received by a candidate in excess of fifty dollars, the complete information is required, including the name, address and occupation of the contributor,” said Adam Ragan, a compliance specialist with the Board of Elections. “It used to be a hundred dollars. That actually changed in 2006. The new law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2007.” The North Carolina statutes regulating contributions and expenditures in political campaigns states that all campaign contributions with the exception of those $50 or less must be listed in a statement that includes the name and complete mailing address of each contributor, the amount contributed, the principal occupation of the contributor and the date the contribution was received. Rakestraw said she thought it was possible that North Carolina statute did not require contributions of $100 or less to be fully reported in 2007. The 13 $100 contributions were reportedly made in the second half of October 2007, within three weeks of the general election, and were listed in a report received by the Guilford County Board of Elections the following January. In contrast, the Rakestraw campaign did properly report $100 contributions — 14 in all — in three previous reports, even though none are dated and the handwriting is difficult to decipher. Ragan said he had received Murphy’s letter, but had not had time to look at it. YES! Weekly requested in a May 30 e-mail that Rakestraw provide all campaign finance information on the 13 contributors that is required by law. Murphy also alleges that Rakestraw’s committee reported $3,500 in outstanding loan proceeds in its 2008 year-end report, but never submitted a proper loan proceeds statement. The loans were made by Rakestraw’s husband and campaign treasurer, Frank.

“You might say that I’m in good standing with Frank Rakestraw,” the councilwoman said in response. The third complaint enumerated in Murphy’s letter is that Rakestraw accepted a $484 contribution from an entity listed as Skenes for City Council in 2007, and that no such candidate committee existed at the time. The last report from the Skenes for City Council committee posted on the Guilford County Board of Elections website is from 2005. Rakestraw responded that whatever the status of the contributor’s committee, she did receive a check from Skenes for City Council. Murphy’s letter warns that his political action committee is currently reviewing other campaign finance reports and might make further investigation requests in the future. “City council members hold powerful positions within the community,” the letter reads. “Accordingly, Stand Up Greensboro believes that accurate and complete reporting of campaign contributions is not only the law, but also imperative to ensure fair and impartial decision-making on behalf of the people of Greensboro.”