Local legislators run afoul of campaign finances

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 11, 2006

RALEIGH – Two local state legislators have allegedly failed to report thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to North Carolina’s State Board of Elections.

According to evidence presented during Thursday’s Board of Elections hearing into possible campaign finance violations, Senator Robert Holloman (D-Hertford) failed to report more than $23,000 in contributions since 2002. Representative Howard Hunter (D-Hertford) also failed to report thousands of dollars in campaign donations and expenses.

“I believe this is a big mistake,” Holloman said. “I have reported this and I have receipts.

“My reports may have some errors and mistakes and you might miss one (contribution) here or there, but I’m not trying to hide anything,” Holloman added.

“Twenty-three thousand dollars of non-reported contributions is a great sum,” State Board of Elections chairman Larry Leake said. “It is difficult for me to accept that a mistake of that magnitude is an innocent mistake.”

When asked about what steps the Board of Elections would take following Thursday’s hearing, Holloman answered “I don’t know.”

However, published reports stated the Board of Elections forwarded Holloman’s case to the Wake County District Attorney’s office on Thursday and ordered the Hertford County Democrat to pay a $1,750 fine.

According to statewide reports, the $1,750 fine represents campaign contributions Holloman accepted from corporations. It is illegal for corporations to make campaign contributions to political candidates in North Carolina.

Hunter, who has been hospitalized in recent weeks, told the board he was surprised to learn he raised $9,180 during the 2004 election cycle. Hunter said he believed he raised less than $3,000, which would have exempted him from filing a campaign report.

The board said it may fine or publicly rebuke Hunter, but said Hunter’s case was not being referred to prosecutors.

Messages left at Hunter’s Raleigh office and his Ahoskie business were not returned.

According to the Board of Elections, bank records show that Holloman failed to report $10,350 in donations of $100 or less. State law requires the amounts to be listed on campaign reports, but the donors don’t have to be identified.

Holloman couldn’t immediately account for a $3,000 cash deposit in February 2002, of which Leake said $1,300 went to his campaign bank account, but was unreported to the state. The rest allegedly went in his personal account.

“This all stems from the Optometry PAC,” Holloman said.

The board uncovered Hunter’s and Holloman’s records during an investigation into possible campaign finance violations by the campaign of House Speaker Jim Black (D-Mecklenburg) and the North Carolina State Optometric Society’s political action committee. Michael Scott Edwards, a local optometrist, served as the head of the Optometric Society’s PAC.

During previous campaign hearings that took place in February, several optometrists testified they wrote incomplete checks to the Optometric Society’s PAC and the payee’s name and date was added months later when the checks were passed out to political candidates.

Holloman testified last month that he received some of that money, but Hunter was hospitalized during last month’s hearing and did not testify.

Edwards chose not to testify during the February hearings, pleading the Fifth Amendment.

“I have not had any communication with the Board of Elections concerning Senator Holloman, but I expect them to contact me soon.” Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. “They referred the investigation of (Michael) Scott Edwards to me based on their inquiry. I have requested the SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) to investigate the matter.

“They are in the early stages (of the investigation),” Willoughby added. “They are gathering documents and conducting interviews.”

The State Board of Elections was in the process of sending exhibits and the transcript from the hearing to the News-Herald, but they had not arrived at press time. Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett did provide one comment.

“The file is closed (now) due to this being a criminal investigation,” Bartlett said.