Board still seeks Black disclosure

About $20,000 isn't accounted for

The Charlotte ObserverNovember 30, 2007 

— Four months past the due date, the campaign of former N.C. House Speaker Jim Black still has not disclosed how it raised and spent money in the first half of 2007.

Now, the State Board of Elections wants answers.

The board, which regulates campaign finances, recently sent a letter to Black's campaign treasurer asking for the details by this week. The treasurer, Virginia Kelly of Charlotte, has not responded.

About $20,000 in campaign money is not accounted for.

Black, 72, a Democrat from Matthews, was among the most powerful politicians in North Carolina until a series of corruption scandals ended his record-tying eight years as speaker. He resigned in February before pleading guilty to taking illegal contributions, sometimes in cash handed over in men's bathrooms.

He is serving in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, scheduled for release in February 2012. A court hearing set for next month will decide whether he serves longer.

In his campaign's last report for 2006, Kelly reported that it had about $57,068 in cash on hand but that she did not know the exact amount.

"I am trying to locate the problem and will file an amended return ASAP," Kelly wrote in a note dated Jan. 10.

She filed no amendments. Six months later, she filed a report covering the first half of 2007. She included a $278 refund from BellSouth and $36,514 in expenses, mostly for lawyers, but again wrote that the information was incomplete. She did not report how much the campaign had on hand.

"This is all the info I can supply now due to circumstances," Kelly wrote. "My office is being moved and I can not get to all my info."

Kelly, a former employee of Black's Charlotte optometry practice, did not return messages from the Observer on Thursday. Two of Black's attorneys also did not return messages.

Kim Strach, deputy director of the State Board of Elections, sent Kelly a letter dated Nov. 15 asking for a completed report and offering assistance. Kelly signed for the letter but has not responded, Strach said.

The elections board can fine a campaign for not completing disclosure reports. Intentional violation of campaign finances laws is a misdemeanor.

Black already owes $1.1 million in fines, including $54,000 in investigative costs for the State Board of Elections. The board played a key role in probing Black's finances, having exposed his practice of filling in the blank payee lines on contributors' checks. It also discovered a series of $500,000 transactions between Black and a lobbyist.

Bob Hall, research director for Democracy North Carolina, which filed an early complaint against Black, said Kelly owes the public full disclosure.

"It's shameful," Hall said of the delay. "I just want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but after four months and a special letter, they need to be responsive. I'm glad the Board of Elections is continuing to protect the public's interest in this matter."

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