A long-awaited report on air travel by gubernatorial candidates in North Carolina discloses one additional unreported flight by Gov. Bev Perdue, bringing to 42 the number of flights she took in the 2004 and 2008 campaign cycles that were not disclosed on public reports.
The flight was to a Michigan fundraiser in Sept. 2007.
Previously, the Perdue campaign had said that a computer glitch helped identify problems and gave several reasons why so many flights were not reported as required by state elections law.
But the report offers new detail.
"The Perdue Committee has provided several reasons as to why flights were not timely disclosed, including: the fast paced nature of the campaign; lack of staff when the campaign was over; and constant turnover of staff. One reason expressed ... was that the campaign had no process in place to track and disclose information regarding flights," says the report, which was authored by longtime elections investigator Kim Strach.
"Based on the documentation provided by the Perdue Committee and interviews that have been conducted, the committee did have a process in place to obtain information on all flights and calculate the costs of the flight if no invoice was received for the flight. Based on documents produced, the Perdue Committee used a form for capturing data related to flights as early as 2005."
The report details efforts by one Perdue friend, Buzzy Stubbs, to properly account for flights he provided. But ultimately, his more than $28,000 in flights were not paid until recently, documents show.
The report also says:
- Former state treasurer Richard Moore, a Democrat, has destroyed all of his campaign's documents in violation of the state's campaign finance guidelines. "No records should have been destroyed until January 2011," the report says.
- Former Republican candidate for governor Fred Smith did not properly account for use of a plane he owned and traveled on during the 2008 campaign. According to an affidvait from Smith's lawyer, Smith believed he had been advised by the state Board of Elections that it could "be treated like the candidate’s vehicle." But the report says that's not the case, and that all expenses should have been disclosed.
- Former Republican candidate Pat McCrory didn't properly disclose a helicopter flight he took in the final days of the 2008 campaign. It was paid in Feb. 2010.
The report arose out of an earlier probe that dealt with flights provided, but not paid, by the campaign of former Gov. Mike Easley. Easley was fined $100,000 related to flights he took with friend and supporter McQueen Campbell.
A major basis of elections law is that campaigns properly disclose what money they take in and how they spend it. Air travel has been an increasing part of campaigns, moving candidates quickly around the state -- and elsewhere -- to meet with supporters at fundraisers. Because many of those supplying the planes are also donors who had given the maximum amount allowed, the law required that the campaign pay for their travel.
Elections director Gary Bartlett said the full state elections board could take up the new report next month, but in a memo he says that all campaigns had problems and that there appears to be no evidence of "any intent of wrongdoing."
The board could issue rebukes, levy fines or take other action.
Bartlett said that an educational campaign should be undertaken so candidates do better, but otherwise he recommends that "it is time for us to move forward."
-- J. Andrew Curliss