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Scott Mooneyham: Appointments and campaign cash

RALEIGH ó It comes as no surprise to most people familiar with state government that appointees to important policy-making boards and commissions often are heavy-hitting political contributors.
For decades, the state Board of Transportation has been dominated by big-time contributors and political fundraisers. That intersection of road routes and big bucks has also led to some significant political scandals.
Still, there’s nothing illegal about contributing to political candidates. There’s nothing illegal about hoping those contributions get you noticed if you’d like a spot on a state board or commission. And there’s nothing illegal about political candidates and their campaigns contacting members of state boards and commissions in hopes of a little campaign coffer help.
What is illegal is making a political contribution a condition of receiving an appointment, or specifically exchanging appointment for contribution.
Feuding over the legality of political patronage actually led to the assassination of a president, James Garfield, in 1881. His assassination, in turn, led to modern-day civil service reforms.
Even so, shaking down either prospective political appointees or government workers continues to get politicians in trouble. Remember that Blago fellow from Illinois?
In North Carolina, the scandal swirling around former Gov. Mike Easley has raised questions about whether political donations and perks may have driven board appointments.
The N.C. Wildlife Federation, a group made up mostly of hunters interested in preserving wildlife and wildlife habitat, has called on Gov. Beverly Perdue to investigate whether political donations decided appointments to the state Wildlife Resources Commission, which sets hunting and fishing rules. The group issued its resolution following testimony before the state Board of Elections about two $50,000 contributions from developer Gary Allen to the state Democratic Party.
Allen used to sit on the commission. His brother, Randy, still sits on the commission.
Like the Board of Transportation or university boards of trustees, seats on the 19-member Wildlife Resources Commission are highly coveted.
And on state boards and commissions where membership is prized, political donors are prevalent.
My own look at campaign finance reports shows 15 of 19 wildlife commissioners or their family members contributing to Perdue’s gubernatorial campaign. On the Board of Transportation, 12 of 15 members contributed to her campaign.
There’s no pattern to the contributions. For example, Perdue reappointed four wildlife commissioners in July. Two had “maxed out” with $4,000 contributions; two hadn’t. One had given $500. Some of those contributing to her campaign had been appointed by legislative leaders.
Even so, it’s interesting to compare the giving on a highly-coveted commission with that of other state boards where just filling vacancies can prove difficult.
On a seven-member board charged with licensing and regulating accountants, just one member contributed to Perdue. The governor appoints all seven members.
Perdue, living up to a campaign promise, has curbed the authority of the Board of Transportation. She won’t ignore the request of the N.C. Wildlife Federation.
But don’t expect her or any other politician to stop asking or taking contributions from board appointees anytime soon.
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Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.

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