All phantom flights may never been revealed

We may never know how many undisclosed flights Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue took in her campaigns for governor. The investigation which was begun to look into the actions of her predecessor and mentor, former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, was cut short by the Democrat-controlled State Board of Elections.

Kim Strach, the deputy manager of campaign finance, said SBOE chair Larry Leake told her not to interview Perdue’s campaign manager and to end the investigation. “We needed to bring this investigation to an end,” Leake said because the News & Observer had filed a public records request and the Republican Party was complaining the investigation was taking to long.

A more cynical observer might ask who were the “we” Leake was referring to. It doesn’t appear to be “we the people” The cynical observer might also wonder if Leake feared that Strach was getting too close to uncovering some other hanky-panky in the Perdue campaign.

The campaign manager is a key player in any campaign. He or she is privy to anything and everything that goes on. Any investigation into questions about a campaign’s compliance with the law should naturally include an interview of the campaign manager.

Strach’s supervisors, unnamed in news reports, edited her detailed report and removed any reference to the restrictions placed on the investigation. Strach, who has been the lead investigator since the probe began, may now be sidelined.

Just a few hours before they adjourned, legislators suddenly gave $100,000 to the board to hire a lawyer for campaign investigations. The money had been cut from the governor’s original budget, but was quietly added to a unrelated bill. That cynical observer asks: why replace the one person who probably knows more about the investigation than anyone else?

Libertarians aren’t surprised at the questions being raised about this investigation. Having to deal with a double-standard when complying with election laws is nothing new to them.

They said the wanted to end the interviews because of time, but they ought to do a fuller job,” said Barbara Howe, state Libertarian Party chair. As a libertarian she has mixed emotions about the whole idea of campaign finance reporting rules in the first place.

“If there are going to be rules that they want to hold all of us to, then all of us should follow them in the same way,’ she said. “Full disclosure is appropriate but limits and other rules just boggle the mind.”

Howe thinks candidates should be able to accept donations and in-kind support from anyone, as long as candidates make full disclosure of the donation or support. “I think they should report to whom they are beholding, but I don’t there should be limits placed on people contributing.”

The questions being raised about the investigation’s integrity highlight the more basic problem with North Carolina’s election system. The state board which governs the system is rigged to favor two political parties. Members are all either Democrats or Republicans. All are appointed by the governor, who gets to name a majority from her own party.

There is no voice from any other ballot-qualified party, like the Libertarians, let alone an independent voice. The more than 1.4 million unaffiliated voters, nearly as many as those registered Republican, do not have a seat at the table.

Board of elections staffers are state employees, so they are theoretically nonpartisan. But they are under the control of a politically-appointed body driven by partisanship and have no one who is impartial and objective to back them up.

The course of this investigation illustrates how partisanship taints fairness. It began as an inquiry into one campaign. Complaints from Republicans, unsupported by any evidence, led the board to broaden it to include all candidates for governor in two campaign years. Then the final report was sanitized and rushed to completion allegedly because of political pressure.

Now there probably will be calls for an investigation into the investigation.