campaign finance irregularities

Democracy NC wants BoE to probe Forest television studio issue

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Somebody needs to look that gift camera in the mouth:

A voting rights organization has asked North Carolina election officials to scrutinize spending by a nonprofit group for equipment for a television studio in the office of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.

Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall wrote a letter Monday to the state elections board seeking review of $60,000 in purchases by what’s called the North Carolina Promotion and Development Fund. WRAL-TV reported the fund owns the equipment, which Forest can use to produce videos about issues important to him. One fund donor is a longtime Forest supporter.

And while they're at it, they might as well look into all the renovations this same supporter did to the Hawkins-Harnett House, which this little blurb leads people to believe Forest paid for it himself:

Shadowy non-profit sets up TV studio for Dan Forest

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood for political propaganda:

A little-known group set up by the Lieutenant Governor's Office and headed by a major campaign donor has provided Lt. Gov. Dan Forest with enough television equipment to build an in-office studio. Forest's arrangement with the North Carolina Promotion and Development Fund appears to be unique in North Carolina state government. Gov. Roy Cooper doesn't have his own television studio, and neither does General Assembly leadership.

NCPDF is a 501(c)(4), also known by its IRS designation as a "social welfare organization." These groups are perhaps best known as political advertising vehicles for anonymous donors, and they're often called "dark money" groups. But attorneys who specialize in this section of the tax code said the category is much broader, and that the way Forest's office uses the NCPDF seems to be allowed under state and federal law, without disclosing donors, provided the group doesn't fund campaign activities. Neither "the studio nor any of the items purchased by the NCPDF have been or ever will be used for campaign purposes," Forest Chief of Staff Hal Weatherman said.

Aside from Dan Forest's inclusion in committees he's not really qualified for (like the Energy Policy Council), the man has no direct influence or responsibilities that would require him to "inform his constituents" about ongoing government matters. So this studio doesn't really serve or promote the office of Lt. Governor, it just promotes Dan Forest. And for at least one wealthy businessman, that promotion is worth a a big pile of money:

Fletcher Hartsell sentenced to 8 months in prison

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Considering it could have been 20 years, he got lucky:

A former North Carolina lawmaker accused of misusing more than $200,000 in campaign funds on vacations, speeding tickets, haircuts and other items was sentenced Tuesday to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to three charges in the case.

Former longtime state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, who represented Cabarrus and Union counties in the 36th Senate district, was sentenced at the end of a hearing that lasted more than an hour in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem. Much of the hearing focused on arguments made on behalf of the 70-year-old Hartsell about how much time he would serve behind bars.

While I understand the desire for sympathy and clemency from the bench, I find it distasteful to contemplate that when taking a broader look at our criminal justice system. The parade of exonerated Death Row inmates, most of whom were forced to serve 2-3 decades (for crimes they didn't commit) before they were released, and the ugliness of mandatory minimums in the failed War on Drugs, which has sent countless young African-American men to prison for 15-20 years because they had a couple of rocks of crack in their pocket, makes this 8 month sentence seem like a gentle slap on the wrist in comparison. That's just my take, your mileage may vary.

Lawyer for McCrory: Interviews "arranged," but not coordinated

The evidence is clear, the BoE needs to follow its own guidelines:

"The Committee's interviews with elected officials after the January 5 rally were arranged in a straightforward manner," wrote Steven Long, a lawyer for the Connect NC bond committee. "The Committee's staff asked several government officials, including Gov. McCrory and Rep. Goodman, if they would be willing to answer questions before a television camera to explain what they thought of the bond. ... None of the officials interviewed were aware beforehand of the questions that would be posed, none received a script or suggested comments form the Committee, and none were told how the film footage of their interviews would be used."

Both the Goodman and McCrory ads were plainly produced in a manner that boosted not only the Bond but the candidates themselves also. And both were in direct violation of the special opinion rendered by the NC Board of Elections:

Progress NC files complaint against McCrory

A clear violation of campaign finance rules:

In December, Elections Director Kim Strach issued one opinion letter saying that candidates for office in 2016 could not serve as the face of bond advertisements. A second letter, issued less than two weeks later, said that candidates could appear in the advertisements but only if they were filmed at a public event and were not delivering scripted remarks.

The video at the center of the complaint has not aired on broadcast or cable television yet. However, the bond committee is poised to unleash a multimillion-dollar ad blitz in the next three weeks as the primary approaches. In their filing, Progress NC says that it appears McCrory sat down for a well-lit, highly produced interview that appears to violate the guidelines set forth by that second opinion.

This just keeps getting messier and messier, and the time to deal with this ethical quagmire has just about run out. At least for the Bond vote, anyway. If any of you are still sitting on the fence as far as this $2+ billion boondoggle, McCrory's crooning should be enough to snap you back to reality.

Legislative hearing today on McCrory's pay-to-play activities

One day of hearings not nearly enough:

“Gov. McCrory’s enforcement demands were obviously "donor-driven," not data-driven,” said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC Action. “Residents across North Carolina have a right to wonder if their highway safety concerns are ignored because they don’t have a political donor to sponsor their issue and grab the ear of the governor whose policies are influenced by a pay-to-play culture in Raleigh. The Guv Ops Commission should look into donor-driven targeted ticketing, as well as pay-to-play prison contracts.”

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is currently investigating whether McCrory’s administration improperly gave millions in state Medicaid contracts to a company which supported his political campaign, and the FBI is also looking into the prison maintenance contract scandal.

WHO: Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations
WHAT: Public hearing on prison maintenance contracts influenced by governor's political donors.
WHERE: 643 Legislative Office Building, Downtown Raleigh
WHEN: TODAY, 11AM

I doubt anybody will be napping during this hearing...

Vicious Liberal media attacks steak-eating House Speaker

Hypocrisy: It's what's for dinner:

The requirement to itemize credit card charges was one of many changes included in legislation to reform campaign finance law that passed the legislature in 2006. Legislative records list Moore among the sponsors of the bill. Records also show Moore voted multiple times to pass the bill. Despite that, Moore’s campaign had never itemized its credit card charges prior to the 2015 audit, according to campaign finance reports filed with the board of elections.

“I disagree with your assessment entirely,” Moore said. “Everything on my campaign finance reports are documented fully. That’s a very unfair question and statement you just made.” When a reporter pointed out to Moore that his campaign had recently amended five years of finance reports, he disputed that. “You are wrong. I mean, my campaign records have been filed the same way over the years."

Translated: "I know exactly what you're talking about, but one of the reasons I have a staff, which includes a Treasurer, is so they can provide cover for me with the BoE, the Ethics Commission, or any other group you think is going to cause me trouble." Before that picture above encourages you to throw on something nice and head out the door, check out some of these charges:

The SBI's probe of Internet gambling corruption on the horizon

And the stakes are considerable:

The case raises clear concerns about pay-to-play politics, but there are significant other issues. One involved contributions from Chase E. Burns of Oklahoma, owner of a company that developed software for the sweepstakes machines. Burns paid $274,000 in campaign donations to North Carolina candidates and party committees from a trust fund filled with $5 million transferred from his company, International Internet Technologies. Burns’ contributions may have violated laws against direct corporate contributions to candidates, and the money itself was tainted by illegal gambling. Burns was indicted in Florida on racketeering charges and pleaded no contest to a lesser charge.

And once again, the N&O failed to mention the SBI has been moved from the Attorney General's office to answering directly to the Governor. Have McCrory's recent diatribes about being persecuted by the media forced the editorial board into being more circumspect? That conflict of interest is not imaginary, it's very real, and ignoring that conflict won't make it go away. Our Governor has demonstrated a severe lack of understanding when it comes to ethical considerations, and he needs to be put on notice that trying to influence the SBI's investigation results will land him in more hot water.

Carolina Rising to the apex of political corruption

Doug Clark speaks to the problem:

If you or I give more than $50 to a candidate's campaign, our name, address and occupation must be reported and available for public scrutiny. The idea behind that level of accountability is that people should know who's trying to influence our government.

Yet it's no concern of anyone who gives $5 million — or $5 billion, for that matter — to one of these independent, nonpolitical organizations for exactly the same purpose of electing a candidate.

It's hard to believe people haven't taken to the streets to demand the identity of the wealthy ghost who wrote a check for almost $5 million to get Tillis elected, or that they aren't screaming at Tillis himself. People rant and rave about how politicians are bought and paid for, but they watch a television ad "paid for by Carolina Rising" and then go out and vote for the candidate this mystery group tells them to. Yes, our two-party system is partly to blame for that logical disconnect, but those voters should still be curious. And every time they see one of these ads, the curiosity should grow:

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