State Politics

Watchdog group calls on Sen. Hise to recuse himself over campaign finance accusations

Sen. Ralph Hise confers with other members when the N.C. General Assembly reconvened for a special session to take up the issues related to Hurricane Matthew and the wildfires in the mountains in December.
Sen. Ralph Hise confers with other members when the N.C. General Assembly reconvened for a special session to take up the issues related to Hurricane Matthew and the wildfires in the mountains in December. cseward@newsobserver.com

A voting-rights advocacy group on Tuesday called on Sen. Ralph Hise, chairman of the Senate’s elections committee, to recuse himself from matters concerning restructuring the State Board of Elections because of pending complaints against him.

Democracy North Carolina referred to two complaints filed in March with the state elections board accusing Hise, a four-term Republican from Spruce Pine, of illegally taking money from his campaign account and violating laws requiring full disclosure of campaign contributors. The complaints were filed by Greg Flynn of Raleigh.

A spokesman for the elections office said it has been reviewing Hise’s campaign finance reports since mid-March, and that audit is still underway. Hise so far has not issued a response to Tuesday’s allegations.

Hise, who represents six mountain counties and is on the staff of a community college in Spruce Pine, told the elections office in March that his treasurer, who is his mother, wasn’t able to help him look into the accusations. He asked for more time for a GOP financial expert to do an internal audit, emails released by the group Tuesday show. The deadline to respond was extended to May 4, but as of Monday he had not submitted a response, according to the advocacy group.

The organization contends that Hise has a conflict of interest as part of the Senate leadership that is involved in a legal dispute with Gov. Roy Cooper over the legislature’s attempt to merge the state elections and ethics boards and prevent the governor from having a free hand to appoint members to the new board. The legislature passed a law in December, saw it blocked in court and then passed another law last month. It’s not clear if the legislature will take up the matter again.

“Because Sen. Hise has such a strong personal stake in who sits on the State Board of Elections, he needs to step aside from decisions about its make-up and duties,” Bob Hall of Democracy N.C. said in a statement. “… If the General Assembly had its way, charges against Hise or any legislator could be blocked.”

The complaints against Hise claim he loaned his campaign about $50,000 but repaid himself approximately $60,000. They also say he failed to report more than $9,000 from nine political action committees over a four-year period, and that his finance reports repeatedly fail to disclose information about campaign contributors.

Hise has the worst disclosure reports in the General Assembly, Democracy North Carolina claims.

None of Hise’s 131 contributors who gave $50 or more had their occupations included on the finance reports, as required by law, according to the group. Even prominent businessman Jim Goodnight of SAS, who contributed $9,000, did not have his occupation disclosed on the forms.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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