State Politics

Investigation sought into NC Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s donor-funded TV studio

TV equipment a political donor helped purchase to fill a studio for Lt. Gov. Dan Forest should be investigated as an illegal campaign contribution, according to a government watchdog group.

Democracy NC, a left-leaning group, asked the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to investigate the arrangement, following a report from WRAL that a nonprofit funded at least in part by a major Forest donor paid for TV equipment for the studio built in the Republican lieutenant governor’s government office.

The nonprofit, called the North Carolina Promotion and Development Fund, started in Forest’s office and is headed by Charlotte businessman David Longo, WRAL reported. Longo is one of Forest’s major financial backers.

“This loan of sophisticated TV equipment appears to be a political donation,” wrote Bob Hall, Democracy NC executive director. “A reasonable person would recognize that it is meant to influence and materially assist Forest’s political career and campaign. It is not dissimilar to a major contributor providing a jet plane, available on loan, to fly the politician around the state to promote his or her agenda and visibility. Such a contribution is subject to campaign contribution rules in North Carolina.”

Forest’s chief of staff, Hal Weatherman, told WRAL the spending is not for political purposes, but helps the lieutenant governor’s office avoid asking for increases to its budget.

The State Board of Elections fined the campaigns of two Democratic governors, Mike Easley and Bev Perdue, for failing to properly report campaign flights. The Perdue campaign was fined $30,000 and the Easley campaign was fined $100,000.

Easley entered an Alford plea in 2010 to a charge that he violated state campaign finance law. He paid a $1,000 fine and his law license was suspended for several years.

Two Perdue supporters were charged with illegally paying for campaign flights and were ordered by the court to pay fines.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner