Board Wants Sweepstakes Cash Probed
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A majority of members on the North Carolina Board of Elections say they support opening a campaign finance investigation into 2012 political donations from the operators of sweepstakes games.
The five-member board is scheduled to meet by telephone Tuesday.
A complaint filed this week by the campaign finance watchdog group Democracy North Carolina focuses on $235,000 in checks to more than 60 campaigns by indicted sweepstakes software provider Chase Burns of Oklahoma.
An Associated Press investigation shows that the Burns donations were part of a larger effort by sweepstakes donors and their lobbyists to distribute more than $520,000 in political donations in the hopes of persuading lawmakers to reverse a 2010 law intended to ban the electronic games, which mimic Las Vegas-style slots.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that most of the $235,000 in checks from Burns were delivered to candidates by Moore & Van Allen, a Charlotte law and lobbying firm where Gov. Pat McCrory worked until just days before he was sworn into office in January.
Burns and his wife were among 57 people arrested last month over ties to a veteran's charity that Florida prosecutors say served as a front for a $300 million illegal gambling operation.
Court filings from the case show that Burn's company, International Internet Technologies, gleaned $98 million in earnings from Internet cafes in North Carolina. The records show that some of the money flowed into the checking account of a trust controlled by Burns that was used to send checks to the campaigns of top Republicans McCrory, state Senate leader Phil Berger and House speaker Thom Tillis, as well as dozens of other elected officials from both parties.
North Carolina law forbids corporate money from flowing "directly or indirectly" to fund political candidates.
In an interview Thursday, elections board member Robert Cordle said the board should investigate whether the sweepstakes donations violated state law.
"I think the whole thing warrants an investigation," said Cordle, a Charlotte lawyer and Democrat. "We need to establish what the facts are."
Cordle joins Democratic board Chairman Larry Leake of Asheville and Republican member Chuck Winfree of Greensboro, whom the AP reported as calling for an investigation on Tuesday.
The elections board has the authority to issue subpoenas and call witnesses to testify. If the board finds misconduct, it can impose fines and make a referral to state prosecutors for criminal charges.
Drew Neville, an Oklahoma City lawyer representing Burns on the felony charges from Florida, said last week that he could not provide comment on any of his client's North Carolina campaign contributions.
Brian Nick, a spokesman for Moore & Van Allen, confirmed this week that the firm distributed the donations from Burns but said they had no reason to suspect the donations may have been improper. Nick previously worked as a spokesman for McCrory's gubernatorial campaign, joining the lobbying firm after the November election.
McCrory's campaign has recently given $18,000 to charity to offset donations from Burns, his wife and other sweepstakes donors facing criminal charges. The governor's campaign received more than $82,000 from sweepstakes donors, according to an analysis of disclosure reports by the AP and Democracy North Carolina.
Speaker Tillis' campaign got more than $87,000 in contributions tied to sweepstakes donors, including $6,500 from Burns. Senate leader Berger got nearly $60,000, according to the AP analysis, including $8,000 from Burns.
Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw said Tuesday that the speaker's campaign had donated its political contribution from Burns to a North Carolina veteran's charity. Berger said Monday that his campaign will donate its money from Burns to charity and reiterated his past opposition to sweepstakes games, including his vote for the 2010 ban.
Burns also sent $55,000 to political committees operated by the North Carolina Republican Party. GOP Chief of Staff Mike Rusher has declined to comment on the money.