Perdue reforming everyone but herself

by Jim Longworth

Earlier this year, the NC Board of Elections was pressured by the Republican Party and the media into launching an investigation of campaign violations by Bev Perdue during her run for governor. Among the charges being investigated were $48,000 in contributions from nine donors who might have been reimbursed by their employers. Perdue tried to disarm investigators by simply returning the money. But her most serious transgressions involved something she couldn’t return — namely, the acceptance of unreported flights which took her from one campaign stop to another at no charge. Initially, the board of elections uncovered 40 free flights, which they estimated had a value of $25,000. But as I pointed out three months ago, the cost of those flights had nothing to do with their actual “value”. My concern was that Perdue had used those free flights to facilitate her appearances at fundraising events which, in turn, netted her campaign large sums of money that were then leveraged into purchases of air time for her negative TV ads against Pat McCrory.

Last month, my suspicions were confirmed when the board of elections discovered Perdue had not reported an additional flight which took her to a fundraiser in Michigan.

In that instance, the board estimated the value of that flight to be $8,900, but they missed the point because $8,900 is what candidate Perdue would have paid had the flight not been donated. However, she pocketed $30,000 in contributions at the Michigan rally. The ramifications of these free flights are chilling.

Let’s say that Perdue only netted $20,000 in contributions from every free flight she accepted. That’s $820,000. And let’s say the cost of each flight averaged $5,000. That’s another $200,000. Thus, in money saved and money collected, Perdue was able to leverage over a million dollars that she could then use for advertising. Believe me, $1 million can buy a lot of TV time in this state — enough, in fact, to influence the outcome of a tight election that she only won by 145,000 votes.

These actions are sort of like closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out.

Clearly, the revelation of the Michigan flight turned up the heat on our governor. Unfortunately, we may never know what effect that revelation will have on Perdue’s future. That’s because last week, board of elections chairman Larry Leake told lead investigator Kim Strach to back off. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Strach was told not to interview Perdue’s chief of staff and former campaign manager Zach Ambrose about the Michigan fundraiser, or about his audit of the campaign flights under scrutiny.

All this comes on the heels of a new development in the investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley by a federal grand jury. It seems that prosecutors were being denied access to certain e-mail communications by Easley, so Judge Howard Manning ordered that Easley’s former legal counsel, Reuben Young, cooperate. Interestingly enough, Young is now Perdue’s secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety, an agency that is catching heat for bad behavior by state Troopers.

Bev Perdue has tried to deflect attention away from her troubles by pretending to be a reformer. Earlier this month she cracked the whip on greedy ABC board members and last week she managed to pass a watered down version of ethics reform which will tighten up requirements for reporting of some campaign donations to certain types of candidates.

For Perdue, these actions are sort of like closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out. Perhaps if Easley had enacted these reforms during his tenure, then Perdue would have had a more difficult time hiding free plane rides. Of course, since both governors seem to share some of the same personnel, some of the same benefactors and the same contempt for regulations, then it’s easy to see why neither were in a hurry to make changes in the way campaign donations were made or spent.

I still think there’s a chance Easley will eventually face jail time for his many dirty dealings and obstructions, but I also think Perdue might not be far behind him. In the meantime, Bev, with her ethics reform routine, is doing her best Lindsay Lohan impersonation by trying to rehab her image in hopes of avoiding a stiffer punishment. The difference is that Lohan never hurt anyone but herself, while Perdue seems to have leveraged unreported air travel into donations which helped to deprive her opponent of the governor’s mansion. That’s something she can never be made to pay back. And this warning to prosecutors: It may seem premature, but you might want to go ahead and have the governor surrender her passport now, because, based on the nature of her alleged crimes, Bev Perdue could be a “flight” risk

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).