Sorry for my recent absence around these parts, but my organization’s attention — and that of most politically active North Carolinians — has been devoted to ongoing public hearings into the various scandals surrounding former North Carolina governor Mike Easley. A two-term Democrat who previously served two terms as the state’s attorney general, Easley exited the Governor’s Mansion early this year in the midst of growing allegations of misconduct regarding his personal finances, campaign finances, and compliance with state ethics and open-government laws.
Among other things, he and top administration officials are accused of leaning on North Carolina State University to hire the First Lady for a very expensive make-work job. The Easley also appear to have received a sweetheart deal on a prime lot in a coastal development spearheaded by political allies who boasted of their special ability to expedite state permitting for the project. The Easleys have been driving private cars they didn’t pay for. They’ve flown dozens of times on state aircraft for personal business, as well as on private aircraft in ways that appear to be in violation of state campaign-finance laws and gift restrictions. The most interesting revelation from this week’s hearings before the state elections board is that the governor reportedly had one of his pilot friends finance repairs to a personal home, then had the friend submit a fake invoice for campaign flights to be reimbursed by the Easley campaign, as a way of reimbursing himself for the home repairs. Then Easley had the audacity to file an insurance claim on the repairs and keep all the money.
Yeah, it’s that kind of thing. No call girls or trips to South America. It’s North Carolina senators who initiate torrid scandals. Our governors are just run-of-the-mill chiselers and influence peddlers, it seems.
Easley’s successor, Democrat Gov. Beverly Perdue, is currently one of the most unpopular governors in the United States, with approval ratings in the 20s. A former lieutenant governor and legislative powerhouse, she did some of the damage to herself during her first few months in office by exhibiting shaky leadership during the state’s deep economic recession and by pushing through a tax increase exceeding $1 billion. But she’s also suffering from the state’s Easley fatigue, blamed (somewhat unfairly) for her predecessor’s manifest unwillingness to pay his bills or keep his personal relationships separate from the operation of state government.
Most of the reporting on the Easley scandals has come from two news organizations: the Raleigh News & Observer, a McClatchy daily that leans left editorially, and Carolina Journal, the print, radio, and online media unit of the conservative John Locke Foundation, which I head. While each team’s reporting has been its own, we did collaborate on legal action to force the Easley administration to comply with public records laws and supply requested state e-mail correspondence about these and other matters.
There’s no need to speculate about how nonprofit media organizations can fill the public-interest reporting gap left by shrinking newsrooms and disappearing news bureaus. There’s a case study now playing out in North Carolina. The current board of elections hearings are just the beginning. State and federal criminal probes are also underway. You can read more here and here.