That cat's now officially out of the bag.
A Wilmington real-estate developer testified Oct. 26, 2009, during a N.C. Board of Elections investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley, that he'd advised Gary Allen, a Charlotte developer, to donate to Easley's election campaigns. Allen wanted to be named to the commission and get help in building a boat ramp on coastal property he owned with his brother, Randy Allen.
Gary Allen wrote two checks for $50,000 each, first incorrectly to Easley's campaign (those checks were torn up), then later to the N.C. Democrat Party. The second set of checks were earmarked by Allen to go to Easley.
Easley promptly named Allen to the commission. He also later appointed Randy Allen to the commission, where he still sits.
Surprise! Gary Allen testified he didn't recall writing the $50,000 checks to the Democratic Party. Surprise! Easley vowed there was no connection between the $100,000 and the appointments, nor a sweetheart real-estate deal at the coast, later set up by the Allens.
Sadly, we weren't surprised. We've heard stories for years about others who sent money to politicians to get commission appointments. Until now, no one had pulled back the boards to peer at what's under the state's rotten patronage system.
Credit the Charlotte Observer for following smoke to the fire. In a Nov. 15, 2009, story, the newspaper found that 18 of 19 current commissioners and their wives had donated $263,187 to "the governors and state House and Senate leaders" who appointed or reappointed them to the commission, and they gave $31,303 to the N.C. Democrat Party.
Just before publication of the Observer's story, the N.C. Wildlife Federation asked Gov. Perdue to investigate and remove commissioners who'd bought their way onto the commission. Perdue's office "referred" the request to the State Bureau of Investigations, but it's unclear whether it will launch a probe. But if the SBI confirms the Observer's report, Perdue should ask for the resignations of 18 commissioners.
Only Eugene Price, retired editor of the Goldsboro News-Argus newspaper, hasn't contributed a dime to anybody, the Observer reported. Known as the "Conscience of the Commission," he was first appointed in the 1980s by Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican - Price was a Democrat at the time. Price switched parties, but has been reappointed since then by Senate Pro Tempore Marc Basnight, a Democrat.
The donations are stunning: $75,000 by Doug Parsons and his wife to Easley, Perdue and the Democrats; $47,000 by Nat Harris of Whitsett; $28,000 by current chairman Steve Windham to Easley and Perdue; $40,000 over the last 10 years from former chairman Wes Seegars; and $4,000 from banker Ray White of Manteo to Easley and Perdue.
What's the payoff? Likely access to legislative power brokers in Raleigh, although commissioners deny such benefits.
Perdue must hope no one cares about these revelations - or she must manage the SBI probe. It's established she got money from commission candidates, so the cash trail to Mike Easley has led to her.
Is selling appointments wrong? Ask Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor - if you can reach him in his jail cell.