Two say money given to party was for Easley

Staff WriterOctober 27, 2009 

— Six years ago, Wilmington developer Lanny Wilson laid out a five-point plan for Gov. Mike Easley to win a big campaign contribution from Wilson's business partner.

Wilson wrote in an e-mail to an Easley campaign staffer that Gary Allen, a Charlotte-area developer, would like to keep his appointment on the state Wildlife Commission and needed the governor's help to get a permit to construct a boat ramp at a Brunswick County subdivision.

Easley, he wrote, should take credit for helping arrange a meeting between Allen and a Progress Energy vice president to discuss land that Allen wanted. And Easley should ask an aide, John Merritt, for background information on Allen to help set him at ease.

Easley was to meet with Allen the following day. By the end of the month, Allen had written a $50,000 check to the N.C. Democratic Party, a contribution that Wilson testified Monday was intended to wind up in Easley's campaign.

Allen won the boat ramp permit, and Easley reappointed him to the commission in 2004. Easley appointed Gary Allen's brother and business partner, Randy Allen, to the commission the following year.

Easley later got a $137,000 discount on a lot in the Allens' Carteret County development, Cannonsgate.

The e-mail from Wilson to the campaign aide was released Monday by the State Board of Elections as part of its inquiry into Easley's campaign. Wilson and another Easley fundraiser and developer, Nick Garrett, testified that they were told to contribute to the party with the intention that the money would go into Easley's campaign fund.

Wilson's $10,000 check written Aug. 29, 2006, was made out to "NC Democratic Party -- Special Acct." Garrett wrote "Mike Easley Campaign" in the memo line on his check to the state Democratic Party.

Easley had given both Wilson and Garrett plum appointments: Wilson to the state Board of Transportation; Garrett to the board of the Clean Water Trust Fund.

Limits on contributions

State political parties can accept unlimited amounts from contributors and spend unlimited amounts on candidates. But they can't secretly funnel money to candidates to evade individual contribution limits.

"If you intentionally concocted a scheme to violate the $4,000 campaign contribution limit, that would be a criminal violation," board chairman Larry Leake said.

Wilson and Garrett testified that they thought they were following the law.

Allen has been subpoenaed to appear at the inquiry later this week.

State Democratic Party attorneys suggested the contributions could have gone toward Easley's six-figure commitments to raise money for the party.

Wilson and Garrett said they dealt with Easley campaign aides, not the Democratic Party. And Garrett said that as a former Republican, he would not have contributed if his money did not end up in Easley's campaign coffers.

Wilson testified that he had also made a contribution in his fiancée's name, which would be another campaign violation. Garrett testified that an Easley campaign aide suggested he contribute in the names of his children. He did not.

"I felt like I had already given enough money," Garrett said.

dan.kane@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4861

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