Media Worried Corruption In N. Carolina Might Cost Democrats Votes

January 30th, 2010 4:47 PM
"Never before have you seen an allegation of corruption going that close to the governor's office in modern history."

So said a Democratic consultant in North Carolina reacting to the latest casualty in the ongoing investigation of former governor Mike Easley.

The scandal has brought down Easley's wife, bankrupted his coffers, disgraced a state university, and now, most recently, set federal charges of extortion against Easley's own closest assistant - with more and more signs pointing back to Easley's doorstep.

How did the national media react to the latest turn? By burying the details and then complaining about citizens who might vote Republican as a result of the scandal.

To see the full scope of corruption afoot, behold this disturbing account from CBS's Raleigh affiliate last Friday:

The laundry list of charges facing a top aide to former Gov. Mike Easley could mean that federal investigators are mounting a serious case against Easley, a former federal prosecutor and a former FBI agent said Friday.

A grand jury on Thursday indicted Ruffin Poole, who was Easley's top aide and legal counsel during the governor's two terms in office, on 51 counts of extortion, bribery, racketeering, mail fraud and money laundering.


Easley isn't named in the indictment, but observers said the level of detail in the 64-page indictment show that investigators have interviewed witnesses extensively and might have made deals with some as they continue to work on the case.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office came down with a sledgehammer here," said Dan Boyce, a Raleigh lawyer who spent seven years as a federal prosecutor.

The indictment noted that Poole became known among Easley's top contributors as "Little Governor" because he was the person tasked with resolving any problems donors faced with state regulators and with lining up appointments for them to serve on state boards and commissions.

Sounds pretty bad - unless you're the Washington Post. That news outlet chose to cover the indictment in quite a different tone:

"Never before have you seen an allegation of corruption going that close to the governor's office in modern history," Crone said.


In previous election years, the corruption associated with Black and Wright didn't bleed over into other legislative districts by hurting the prospects of other Democratic incumbents just by association. It shouldn't happen this year, either, Hackney said.

"I don't see how Ruffin Poole's indictment affects somebody running for a House seat in eastern North Carolina if there's no direct connection," said Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategists who used to work with former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt.

Hackney and other Democrats are hopeful the economy will turn around by the November elections so they'll have some more positive things to talk about with voters.

So you see, even though federal agents exposed systematic corruption all over the state, Easley and Poole don't reflect anything bad about the Democratic party, and shouldn't be lumped in with other Democrats.

Except for the fact that before this all came out, Easley was a powerful Democrat who was known for his influence as a superdelegate.

Back in 2008 when Barack Obama had grand ambitions of winning key states in the Bible belt, Easley was almost a rock star.

In May of that year, the NY Times used its blog to ooze about his "powerful endorsement" in the primary. US News called him a "coveted" recruit. Over at Politico, Ben Smith gushed that Easley was a "meaningful ally" with "a popular name and a symbolic validation."

Easley spent all of 2008 hobnobbing with DNC brass, even traveling to Chicago for a meeting with Obama. Democrats treated him like royalty, and the mainstream media couldn't get enough of him.

Of course, if Easley had been governor of a state no one cared about, the Democrats might have been more pro-active about shunning him. Even before North Carolina held its primary, signs of corruption had begun to trickle out:

Several media organizations sued Gov. Mike Easley on Monday, claiming his administration has routinely flouted the state's public records law by deleting official e-mails.

The suit seeks a court order preventing state employees from deleting government e-mails and requiring officials to ensure that people in their departments comply with the state public records law.

The e-mail debate has raged in the weeks since a fired Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman said Easley's administration had an unwritten policy to delete e-mails daily.

Easley was already viewed with suspicion for his botched handling of the Mike Nifong Duke lacrosse fiasco. As the email story broke, voters inside the state became increasingly disconnected from the fawning adoration in the national media.

The email fiasco was the beginning of a massive unraveling. As more revelations appeared, Democrats not doing anything. Easley kept his seat as a superdelegate, and party loyalists in NC defended him to the end.

In May 2009, federal agents arrived to address the growing accusations. The Associated Press covered it with a bland report that mentioned his party affiliation at the very end:

The state Board of Elections is investigating at least 25 trips that Easley took on private jets after The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that he didn't pay for some flights.

The Democrat stepped down earlier this year because term limits prevented him from running again. He is now a partner at a law firm.

Easley did not immediately return a telephone message.

That was it. A year after being the center of attention, Easley's status as a Democrat was suddenly a footnote, a detail that wasn't important to the story.

By June, Easley's wife Mary was removed from a cushy job at NC State University, along with three prominent leaders of the school who resigned, under exploding suspicion the job had been a campaign gift.

The Associated Press covered the story by promoting school officials who called it a "distraction." The piece managed to talk about the Easley couple - and longtime Democrat Erskine Bowles who runs the UNC system - without a single mention of the word "Democrat" anywhere.

Just a few months later in October, Easley was fined by the Board of Elections in an official tribunal. Apparently those "distractions" had been illegal. The Greensboro News and Record reported that the Democratic party was also held responsible:

Already, federal prosecutors have used a grand jury to probe Easley's dealings while in office. Judging by subpoenas and witnesses connected to those hearings, the probe extends beyond campaign finances.

But the elections board was focused on whether Easley or his campaign intentionally skirted a variety of campaign finance laws. In its ruling on Friday, the board said the state Democratic Party, the Easley campaign committee and Easley himself bear some level of responsibility.

The mainstream media basically ignored this development altogether. This once "powerful" and "popular" trendsetter among Democrats was now just an obscure governor who had nothing to do with national politics.

Three months after the Board of Election tribunal, enter the indictment of Poole. Finally faced with indisputable proof of statewide corruption, the media have no choice but to report the story - not to ask why Democrats keep ending up on trial, but to pout because Republicans are getting an advantage.

The Easley scandal is a prime example of how the media love Democrats who are useful in winning elections, but suddenly disinterested when that same person embarrasses the Democrat party. Mike Easley was a darling, a celebrity, and a mover and shaker, until he became a liability.

Oh, and lest the media try to convince you it ends with Poole, check out this little detail about Beverly Purdue, the current sitting governor of NC:

Since last summer, the campaign has uncovered a total of 31 flights aboard private planes that were previously unreported. The donors who provided 21 of the flights have been reimbursed, while the others were included on amended campaign finance reports as in-kind contributions.

The combined value of the 31 flights was more than $25,400.

State campaign finance laws forbid corporate donations to candidates and limit individual contributions to $4,000 per election cycle.

Campaign treasurer Oscar Harris said that campaign officials have been auditing Perdue's campaign finances after the campaign shifted to a new software program. The officials have come across the previously unreported flights in the process, he said.

Purdue served as Lt Governor under Easley and won the election by campaigning against the culture of corruption. But I'm sure she doesn't represent anything bad about her party either.