The State Board of Elections should heed a public watchdog group’s call and conduct open hearings on the campaign activities of former Gov. Mike Easley. The public deserves to know whether Easley’s victories were fair and square.
Democracy North Carolina, which has a record of uncovering questionable financial practices by state politicians, says it has found two disturbing trends in Easley’s campaign reports. One involves expenses and the other the possible use of the Democratic Party as an illegal conduit for third-party contributors. On July 23, the party forfeited $24,000 in donations related to this kind of activity, providing the money to the state board.
The U.S. attorney in Raleigh is investigating Easley on a variety of matters, and the board of elections has been looking into his campaign finances — all behind closed doors. The state’s newspapers have detailed questionable activity by the former governor and his wife, Mary, but so far no official public hearings have been held. Whether anything that he or his wife did was illegal is still just a matter of speculation.
In the case of possible criminal charges, the U.S. attorney’s secrecy is understandable. Determining if there is enough evidence to warrant a prosecution takes a lot of time.
But the elections board is a different matter.
The elections board does not decide on matters of criminal behavior. A public hearing would bring to light whether the Easley campaign violated state civil law with regard to its campaign fundraising and spending. If the board were to find evidence of criminal activity, it would pass that to the Wake County district attorney for possible action.
North Carolina voters elected Easley four times, to two terms as attorney general and two as governor. They deserve a full public airing of any reasonable allegations of which the elections board may be aware. They should have the evidence laid out in the open so they can get a better view of how Easley operated and whether any changes in state law are needed to assure fair and honest campaigns.
For his part, Easley isn’t talking. But a spokesman for the former governor says the hearings are not necessary because the allegations are based on flawed reporting by newspapers.
The spokesman’s response is incorrect; Democracy North Carolina is not a newspaper and it has raised issues that it says have not been reported in the press. Furthermore, we wonder why the former governor, if the charges are baseless, would pass up the opportunity to demonstrate that in public. If Easley’s reputation can use anything at this time it would be a victory in front of a panel like the elections board.
The people of North Carolina deserve to see the evidence.