Bob Hall’s righteous indignation over money’s influence on politicians and the government they’re suppose to run for the people makes a difference. As executive director of the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, Hall has not hesitated to stand up and point at individuals and situations he thinks are bad for, well, democracy.
For one, he helped document the contributions from the video poker industry to former state House Speaker Jim Black. Black admitted to accepting thousands of dollars in checks with blank payment lines that he filled out and deposited. Black went to prison on corruption charges but is now free.
Hall is at it again, raising questions about video poker money. He is asking the Wake County district attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern North Carolina to follow up on a two-year investigation by the State Board of Elections into contributions from the video poker industry or those connected to it. That investigation found no campaign finance violations.
But Hall says the Wake DA and the U.S. Attorney, Thomas Walker, should look into whether other laws were violated, laws pertaining to corruption, bribery or other criminal offenses. He’d also like them to take another look at campaign law violations.
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This much is known: Millions of dollars have poured into state political campaigns in recent years as an investment by the video poker industry, which wanted to maintain a presence in the state. Some of that money came through a Florida man, Chase Burns, who was later charged with racketeering.
The industry’s desperate wish to maintain a foothold in the state is no mystery. This is a multimillion-dollar industry that finds itself constantly up against law enforcement for good reason. Over many years, the industry has called itself everything from video poker to sweepstakes cafes to other more innocuous names, but it hasn’t called itself what it is, which is gambling. Law officials believe many of the “machines” allowing people to play games have been fronts for cash payouts. And this is all in addition to the fact that North Carolina has long banned gambling because of what it does to individuals with gambling problems and their families.
Hall rightly believes that with all this money at stake, the industry has used illegal bundling of campaign contributions and other manipulations of laws designed to protect the public from political corruption. Politicians, including Gov. Pat McCrory, have passed contributions received from those connected to the industry to charities, an imperfect solution.
Hall advocates that these two prosecutors’ offices muster their power and authority to really go after the potential corruption of the political system by a self-interested industry wanting to preserve what it views as potentially multi-millions of dollars in income.
Hall’s instincts are proven. The prosecutors should study his findings and the claims he bases on those findings and put the video poker industry through its paces, not just one more time but as many times as it takes.