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Editorial: Campaign turbulence

Felony indictments handed down Monday against three people involved in Gov. Beverly Perdueís 2008 campaign set political circles abuzz with speculation about what this will mean for Perdue and her likely bid for a second term.
While the political fallout for Perdue is an interesting question as she faces a likely matchup with former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, hereís another question to consider: Given recent history, is it time gubernatorial candidates stopped hitching airplane rides to barnstorm campaign stops and took the bus instead?
While a bus wouldnít be as fast, it would offer fewer opportunities for the type of campaign reporting errors that resulted in felony charges against former Gov. Mike Easley and have now embroiled some of the governorís associates.
Those indicted are former Perdue campaign finance director Peter Reichard, who also worked for Easleyís campaign; Juleigh Sitton, an attorney who recently resigned as director of the governorís Western Office in Asheville; and Trawick H. Stubbs Jr. of New Bern, a former law partner with Perdue’s late first husband. The indictment alleges that Stubbs obstructed justice by not reporting $28,000 in free airplane trips for the governorís campaign, instead reporting them as expenditures to the N.C. Democratic Party. It claims that Reichard was involved in funneling $32,000 in contributions from a wealthy campaign donor to help pay Sittonís salary. (Election law limits an individualís donations in cash or services to $4,000 per election cycle).
Perdue herself hasnít been charged, and Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby said the governor was not a target of the investigation. But thatís little comfort for those hoping the ethical lapses of Easley, former House Speaker Jim Black, Meg Scott Phipps, Frank Ballance and others represented an aberration in the stateís political history, not a longrunning trend. The accused, of course, will have their day in court. But even under the most generous interpretation, the indictment suggests an abysmal carelessness regarding campaign reporting laws, if not willful flouting of them.
Some have argued that the campaign laws themselves are murky and hard to interpret. There isnít a lot to interpret in a $4,000 donation cap or the definition of an in-kind contribution. The problem doesnít lie in the laws but in those who attempt to skirt them in pursuit of political advantage. Unfortunately, weíve had too many examples of this recently. With 2012 campaigns heating up, candidates would do well to have their staffs brush up on disclosure details. They also might want to limit themselves to charter flights ó or leave the driving to Greyhound.

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