Elections probe follows money

An elections board investigation shifts from the likes of Jim Black to the donors

The Charlotte ObserverAugust 7, 2007 

— The State Board of Elections is taking its government corruption investigations beyond politicians to the people who gave them money.

At least two avenues of investigation have opened from the scandals surrounding former House Speaker Jim Black.

The elections board is investigating how Black got $2,000 in cash from the same topless bar owner whose money went through a Charlotte tourism group, without being reported, before it ended up in Black's campaign.

The board also is examining a $30,000 contribution from the video poker industry to a national Democratic organization that channels money to North Carolina campaigns.

"The more we look, the more doors open," Larry Leake, chairman of the elections board, said Monday.

The elections board has examined records and conducted interviews regarding both the bar owner and Democratic group for months, but Black's sentencing hearing last week highlighted information new to the public.

The elections board's inquiries drew newfound attention through a complaint filed Monday by Joe Sinsheimer, a former Democratic campaign researcher who operated a yearlong Web site calling for Black's ouster. Previous complaints by Sinsheimer, now a venture capital investor, led the elections board to hold hearings on two other legislators.

In his complaint, Sinsheimer asks the elections board to consider financial penalties against David "Slim" Baucom, who operates about a dozen North Carolina strip clubs through his Charlotte-based M.A.L. Entertainment.

Black testified last week that Baucom gave him an illegal $2,000 cash contribution. Baucom drew scrutiny last year after his donation to the Tourism PAC, the political arm of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, was immediately passed on to Black without being reported by the PAC.

"We're following the money," said Gary Bartlett, the elections board's executive director.

Baucom did not return a message left Monday by the Observer on his cell phone.

$30,000 questioned

Sinsheimer's complaint also asks the elections board to investigate $30,000 that the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee reported receiving in 2000 from the N.C. Amusement Machine Association Inc., the video poker industry's trade group.

Sinsheimer questioned whether the money is an illegal corporate donation since the Democratic group routinely routes money back into North Carolina. Campaign reports do not detail how much money the Democratic group contributed in the state in 2000. The committee raises money for state legislative candidates across the country.

Stevie Hughes, a spokeswoman for the amusement machine association, said she couldn't immediately verify the $30,000 contribution and that she hadn't heard from the elections board.

Alex Snider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic group in Washington, said it hasn't seen the complaint but always complies with North Carolina law.

Check vs. cash

State cash campaign contributions are limited to $50, so Black's testimony about the topless-club owner caught attention in the courtroom. Black suggested Baucom didn't want to embarrass him with a check, though Baucom gave other donations to Black and other candidates by check.

Black did not say when Baucom gave the money, but Baucom and others wanted to block legislation in 2003 that tightened regulations on adult entertainment clubs. The legislation eventually passed, but only after stalling in the House for months.

Black is in prison after pleading guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in cash from chiropractors who had interests in legislation.

Baucom's name came up last year over a $4,000 contribution he made in January 2005 to the Charlotte-based Tourism PAC.

Mohammed Jenatian, PAC treasurer, funneled the money to Black's campaign but didn't report it. Jenatian, a Black supporter, said last year the lack of disclosure was an oversight.

In November 2004, Baucom gave $1,000 to the N.C. Bike PAC, a motorcycle organization, which gave the same amount to Black two months later. Both Baucom and Jenatian were called before a federal grand jury investigating Black in April 2006.

Beason loan

Black testified at his sentencing that lobbyist Don Beason, whose clients include the amusement machine association, loaned him $500,000 in June 2000. Beason has since said he used poor judgment. About the same time of the loan, the N.C. Senate voted to ban video poker and sent that legislation to the House, which kept the games alive with new regulations.

In weeks that followed, the amusement machine group gave $30,000 to the Democratic committee, according to its Internal Revenue Service filing.

Sinsheimer wrote in his complaint that is unlikely that an N.C. trade association would make such a donation, "unless the group thought the money would be spent in North Carolina."

(Observer staff writer David Ingram contributed to this report.)

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