Cover Story: Investigation - NC politics

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Bombshells dropped in Raleigh.  A Mike Easley supporter opens up about the former governor's home fix-ups, allegedly paid for with campaign money.  And flights Easley took -- that he allegedly did not pay for.

Did Easley break the law?  State officials still trying to figure that out.

Mike Easley is the first former governor to go before the elections board but he's not the first high-profile politician to face such an inquiry.

What's happened to North Carolina politics?

It was this bombshell that was dropped yesterday.

A close friend and Easley supporter.. asked about how campaign money was used.

Larry Leake, Elections Board Chairman asks, "Did the campaign actually paid for the repairs to Governor Easley's home?"  Answered McQueen Campbell, "That's correct."

The investigation by the State Board of Elections into former Governor Mike Easley's campaign finances now starting to sound a bit like Watergate.

A secret fund may have held thousands in illegal campaign donations.

The question did Easley breaking the law while proclaiming to be a law-and-order governor and attorney general before that?

Ted Arrington, political science professor at UNC Charlotte says, "Candidates have known that they can get away with a lot of shoddy bookkeeping because nobody's looking."

It wouldn't be the first time a North Carolina politician is carted off to jail..

In just the last five years there was Meg Scott Phipps, the state Agriculture Commissioner convicted of federal fraud and conspiracy.

Jim Black, House Speaker and Matthews Democrat convicted of federal corruption charges.

And at least two other members of the state House of Representatives have been sent to prison.

What happened to North Carolina's reputation for clean politics?

"Now let's be clear about this. We're not in the same bout with Louisiana yet. All right.. but we can get there," says Arrington.

What's changed?  Blame the buck.  The amount of money it now takes to get elected has grown.. and grown quickly.

Once was a time in North Carolina when running for office didn't cost much.  Democrats who controlled power were never seriously challenged.  And so a candidate didn't have to spend much money.

Arrington says we've become a big state now.  And there's big money in politics.  Will Easley fall victim as the others have?

"If the governor really has broken the laws and I don't know that..and if he ends up in jail-- that certainly will help enforce the law. But even if not.. we need to be more serious about that because it's big time now."

The Elections Board isn't running a trial, it's more like a Congressional hearing where they're trying to uncover information.

In Easley's case the Board could do nothing or issue a fine or a reprimand.  If they find criminal wrongdoing the case could be turned over to a state court.

Keep in mind a federal grand jury is looking into all of this right now as well.

Gov. Easley is expected to testify on Wednesday.