Under the Dome

Many officials asked to fix campaign reports

December 1, 2009 

The extra eyeballs at the State Board of Elections are catching errors on some very recognizable campaign-finance reports.

During the past several months, election officials have asked for missing information from the campaigns of Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Senate Republican leader Phil Berger, former Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, State Auditor Beth Wood (the auditor is being audited) and others to provide missing information about contributions or contributors. In Marshall's case, the board's letter asked her campaign to file an overdue report.

All except Berger are Democrats.

Election officials routinely send out such letters after they have scrutinized campaign-finance reports, but two years ago, the board received funding to hire seven more auditors and compliance specialists. That gave them the ability to review reports more thoroughly and find problems more quickly.

Money for the extra staff followed highly publicized corruption cases that involved campaign money.

The recent letters highlighted bookkeeping problems, such as misdated contribution checks and contributions that weren't recorded by either the donor or the candidate. Typically such inquiries are resolved by the campaign filing a corrected report and providing the details. Dalton's campaign, for example, received a letter in February and subsequently corrected his report.

"This is not any kind of gotcha," said Gary Bartlett, the board's executive director. "This is to get the statements right and ensure the accuracy of reports. By going through this, we're hoping people will have a better understanding of doing their reports, and mistakes will be minimized."

Perdue pushes 'Race'

Gov. Bev Perdue strongly urged the state's school superintendents Monday to join in the effort to capture part of a $4.5 billion block of federal education money.

The "Race to the Top" program has run into resistance from some North Carolina education leaders because of its emphasis on charter schools, among other concerns.

Perdue, though, told a conference of superintendents in Raleigh that the program will set the guidelines for how federal education funding is going to work, regardless of whether North Carolina officially applies for the money.

"We're going to play, one way or another," Perdue said. "This is the template."

Perdue said superintendents and school board leaders from every district have to sign letters of agreement and send them to Raleigh in time for the state to submit an application by Jan. 19.

A Thanksgiving first?

Perdue observed Monday that she was not only thankful during the Thanksgiving holiday but also marked another first in North Carolina history.

"I bet I'm the first governor in the history of North Carolina to bake a turkey," she said during an impromptu news conference, adding that the final product from the oven was quite tasty.

When a reporter lightheartedly asked whether former Gov. Jim Hunt might have tried his hand in the kitchen, Perdue responded: "I'll bet he didn't wear an apron."

The Perdue family celebrated the holiday at her home in New Bern.

Filling empty seats

Seven legislative seats have recently opened for next year's election, four in the Senate and three in the House.

And those vacancies could lead to a couple of turnovers.

The Civitas Institute has broken down the voting trends in those districts and offered an analysis on which seats will stay safely in the same party's hands and which can expect a political brawl.

The report says the districts of Sen. Julia Boseman, a Wilmington Democrat, and Rep. Ray Warren, a Democrat from Alexander County, are prime targets for Republicans.

mjohnson@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-4774

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