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Strengthen NC’s capacity to investigate public corruption

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Louis DeJoy of Greensboro, a major Republican donor and now the country’s Postmaster General, is under scrutiny by the FBI for possibly using “straw donors” to circumvent limits on individual contributions to federal elections. Now, the Common Cause North Carolina advocacy group and campaign finance expert Bob Hall are lobbying Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman – who has jurisdiction over state election law violations – to open a state investigation.

Freeman is reluctant to do so for several reasons, and one of them is a scandal in itself – a shortage of investigators. The Wake County District Attorney believes it is best to leave the investigation to the authorities. She notes that they have the powers of a federal grand jury and that DeJoy is a federal employee.

But beyond that, there is the practical question of whether the state has the resources to conduct a parallel investigation into the contributions of employees at logistics company DeJoy’s High Point to Pat McCrory’s governors’ campaigns in 2012. and 2016. The problem is whether the employees of New Breed Logistics has been illegally reimbursed for his political contributions. DeJoy has denied knowingly violating election laws.

For a state investigation, Freeman would have to rely on the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), which has only four officers assigned to its special investigation unit. “It’s an incredibly small division and the office has a lot of demands. There has been no increase for about 10 years, ”Freeman told the editorial board. “For years I have raised this concern.”

Well she should. Saving money on public corruption investigators requires a high cost. This means that even when evidence of violations emerges, they cannot be prosecuted. There are only a handful of investigators who are required to review cases at the municipal, county, and state levels.

The budget proposed by the State Senate aims to transfer four election investigators from the State Elections Council to the SBI. But the move is more about the Republicans’ takeover of a body controlled by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper than the strengthening of the SBI. “Any reasonable person should come to the conclusion that the body responsible for election inquiries should be as free as possible from any political influence – real or perceived -” said Lauren Horsch, spokesperson for Senate Leader Phil Berger.

Instead of moving investigators, lawmakers should let board members stay and hire more special investigators for the SBI.

In the meantime, Freeman said she would review Common Cause’s findings based on Hall’s research.

Hall said campaign fundraising records show DeJoy, his family and 60 of his employees donated $ 300,000 to McCrory’s gubernatorial campaigns, but employees showed little interest in contributing to d ‘other state campaigns. The 60 employees, Hall said, have given less than $ 8,000 to other North Carolina candidates or committees for 30 years.

If she had more investigators and legal firepower, Freeman might be inclined to mirror the federal investigation with a state investigation. But given the state’s limitations, she’ll likely leave it to the FBI. Hall said she should coordinate with the FBI probe. “I just want more resources to investigate public corruption,” he said.

Freeman believes it would strain the state’s limited resources.

“I have immense respect for Bob Hall and Common Cause and I regret that they feel that I am not fulfilling my responsibilities in one way or another,” said Freeman. “But I don’t think the right thing to do is to launch a state investigation.”

Nonetheless, she said she would “carefully consider” Hall’s new findings and act if the FBI presented her with evidence of state violations.

It is regrettable that the General Assembly has not made it a priority to strengthen the capacity of the State to investigate, even in the face of well-developed evidence. The next state budget is expected to address this weakness with funding that will strengthen public integrity.

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The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer Editorial Boards combined in 2019 to provide our readers with more comprehensive and diverse opinion-oriented content on North Carolina. The Editorial Board operates independently of the Charlotte and Raleigh newsrooms and does not influence the work of the reporting and editorial teams. The combined board of directors is chaired by NC Opinion editor-in-chief Peter St. Onge, who is joined in Raleigh by award-winning News & Observer writer Ned Barnett and in Charlotte by Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Kevin Siers. Board members also include Robyn Tomlin, President and Editor-in-Chief of News & Observer, Sherry Chisenhall, President and Editor-in-Chief of Observers, and Barry Saunders, longtime News & Observer columnist. For any questions about the board or our editorials, email pstonge@charlotteobserver.com.


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