Former non-profit exec files complaint against Berger campaign

By: Staff report

RALEIGH — A former executive director for the non-profit organization Democracy North Carolina has filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement against the 2016 campaign of Court of Appeals Judge Philip E, Berger Jr.

The complaint asks that a comprehensive audit an investigation be opened into the campaign’s financial records.

“First, based on my conversations with donors listed on the Berger for Judge Committee’s 2016 campaign disclosure reports, there are two individuals who say they are sure they did not make the donation attributed to them on the reports,” said Bill Hall, who filed the complaint on Thursday. “A third suspicious donation attributed to an individual does not appear to be that person’s money.”

Hall did not make those three names public.

Hall’s complaint states “it appears that these campaign contributions violate NC General Statute 163A-1428(a) which prohibits making or receiving any contribution ‘in the name of another individual,’ i.e., a person other than the actual donor. This statute includes a situation where a person contributes money in the name of another individual who agrees to have their name used; all those knowingly involved in such a transaction expose themselves to possible prosecution.”

The complaint goes on to claim that Berger’s campaign records show no food and beverage expenses disclosed for a fundraising event for the Berger for Judge Committee held on July 1, 2016, at the home of Olivia Oxendine, “a Robeson County educator who is an appointed member of the State Board of Education.”

”Phil Berger Jr. and his father, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr., attended the fundraising event,” Hall said in his complaint. “In 2012, the state Senate led by Phil Berger Sr. refused to approve appointments to the State Board of Education made by then Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat. As a result of this action, largely controlled by Senate leader Phil Berger, the Republican governor elected in 2012, Pat McCrory, had the opportunity to make four appointments to the Board of Education in his first year, rather than just two. Olivia Oxendine was one of those four appointments.”

The complaint goes on to claim that more than 25 contributions from Robeson County donors are listed on the Berger for Judge Committee report for July 1, 2016. Several weeks later, many of the same donors also contributed to the Senate campaign of Phil Berger Sr., according to his disclosure report.

“It is understandable that Ms. Oxendine would host a fundraiser that benefited Sen. Berger’s son,” Hall said. “A photo of the fundraising event from the Robeson County Republican Party’s Facebook page indicates a catered meal was served at the event. However, I cannot find any in-kind contribution or food/beverage expense associated with the Oxendine fundraiser on the disclosure reports of the Robeson County Republican Party or the campaign reports of either Phil Berger Jr. or Phil Berger Sr.”

Hall went on to state that Berger’s campaign committee may have also violated other statutes, such as NCGS 163A-1418(a) regarding “certification” of campaign disclosure reports “as true and correct” and NCGS 163A-1419(b) regarding timely disclosure of all contributions and expenditures.

The complaint filed also states:

— There are no expenditures or in-kind contributions disclosed by the Berger for Judge Committee for a fundraising event held on April 15, 2016, at Darryl’s restaurant in Greensboro.

— Tom Fetzer of Wilmington, a registered lobbyist and former NC Republican Party chair, donated $4,000 to Phil Berger Jr.’s campaign in August 2016; it is the largest single contribution he has made to any candidate over the past 25 years, according to the State Board of Elections database. Several months after the contribution, the NC Senate led by Phil Berger Sr. appointed Fetzer to a seat on the UNC Board of Governors.

— Maurice and Mary Raynor from Pittsboro are the couple who donated the largest amount of money to the Berger for Judge Committee in the 2016 cycle – a total of $10,000. They are listed on the Committee’s disclosure report as owners of M&M Alpaca Farm in Chatham County.

“However, the Raynors have owned many video-poker sweepstakes ‘parlors’ across the state for years, and at the time of their contributions to Phil Berger Jr., in June 2016, one of their stores in Rockingham County was under threat of being shut down by the Eden police department,” Hall stated “The sweepstakes parlor, called Starlite Eden 1, had been allowed to operate while Phil Berger Jr. served as district attorney for Rockingham County.”

The parlor was eventually closed by District Attorney Craig Blitzer, but reopened after a few weeks — during which time the Raynors’ made their $10,000 donation to Phil Berger Jr. The parlor didn’t last long, however, wand was soon closed for good.

“Another sweepstakes parlor the Raynors owned in rural Rockingham County, beyond the jurisdiction of the Eden police department, remains open today,” Hall claimed. Considering that the Raynors’ $10,000 contribution to Phil Berger Jr. was made in June 2016, it would be more accurate for Berger’s campaign disclosure report to identify Maurice and Mary Raynor as the president and vice president of Starlites Tech Corp. or owners of sweepstakes parlors, rather than simply as owners of an alpaca farm.”

A spokesman for the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement said the agency receives numerous complaints every year about alleged violations of laws governing political campaigning. Those involving money go to the agency’s campaign finance compliance staff for a review that might or might not lead to a hearing before the board, depending upon what the staff inquiry shows.

“Complete and timely disclosure of the money involved in the public elections process is vital to a free and fair democracy of, by, and for the people,” Hall concluded. “I look forward to your investigation of these matters. I will contact you about providing the details of the individuals who say they did not contribute to the Berger for Judge Committee.”

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Staff report