CHARLOTTE — The head of House Speaker Jim Black's legal defense fund has accepted money for the fund from a political action committee affiliated with one of the state's largest unions.
The legal fund received a $5,000 check dated Aug. 25 from "Drive PAC," an arm of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, according to election reports and legal fund organizer Addison Bell.
The money is going to help pay Black's legal bills over the past year as state and federal investigators have looked into fundraising by his campaign and people close to him in connection with the passage of last year's lottery.
At least two newspapers reported earlier this year that Bell had said the defense fund would not accept contributions from lobbyists or political action committees. Bell said last week he was quoted incorrectly.
"We will accept PAC money," Bell, a Matthews businessman, told the Charlotte Observer. "I remember saying 'lobbyists,' not 'PACs.' "
Political action committees are normally limited to giving a maximum of $4,000 per candidate per election, but can make unlimited contributions to legal defense funds.
According to state law, contributions and expenditures to legal defense funds don't have to be disclosed by the fund's operators.
Political action committees must identify such donations. Bell said the Teamsters-related check is the only contribution so far from a political action committee. He has declined to release the fund's records.
The state Senate plans to study defense funds and other election issues before the General Assembly convenes in late January.
"People have a right to know who is giving money to public officials," said Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. "And the public can draw their own conclusions on whether or not that has an influence on the official's actions."
Drive PAC identified the donation in a 222-page filing with the Federal Election Commission. The report shows the contributions went to Black's optometry office in Charlotte.
The legal defense fund was started in March by Bell and former Charlotte City Council member Stan Campbell. Last year Attorney General Roy Cooper and Gov. Mike Easley approved Black's office spending up to $30,000 in the state funds to respond to records request from federal investigators.
In March, a state attorney rejected a request for an additional $170,000.
In addition to the subpoenas, Black's office and campaign have had other legal troubles, including a State Board of Elections ruling this year that Black's campaign accepted illegal corporate contributions and incomplete checks.
He was required to testify recently in the trial of former lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings, who was Black's choice for the panel. Last week a federal jury convicted Geddings of mail fraud. Black has not been charged with any crime.
The Teamsters has 15,000 members in North Carolina and operates local chapters in three cities, representing truckers, Miller Brewing Co. workers in Eden and others.
The "Drive PAC" also gave $20,000 to the N.C. House Democratic Caucus on Aug. 31, according to records. A federal political action committee like the Drive PAC can give unlimited amounts of money to state parties.
The national Teamsters union referred questions about the contributions to a union official in Greensboro. A representative of the office didn't immediately return a phone call Monday.
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