Last week, gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory was adamant that opponent Beverly Perdue should return campaign money tied to a Board of Transportation member who had steered public money to road improvements adjacent to property he or a son co-owned.
McCrory, the Republican mayor of Charlotte, ended the week by attending a fundraiser on Emerald Isle that pulled in more than $100,000 – half of it from a former Transportation Board member from Jacksonville who had done much the same thing 20 years earlier. But McCrory's campaign sees no reason to return the $50,000.
“It's a bogus story to compare someone who is – as a volunteer citizen of the state of North Carolina with no power – out raising money, compared to someone who is sitting on the Board of Transportation and is using that position to raise money,” Jack Hawke, McCrory's campaign strategist, said Wednesday.
He added, “What happened 25 years ago has nothing to do with what's happening today.”
An internal campaign e-mail written by Frank Rouse, a former state Republican Party chairman and a McCrory volunteer, gleefully notes the money that Tommy Pollard raised. Pollard served on the Transportation Board from 1985 to 1990 and was later elected to the state Senate.
“Former State Senator Tommy Pollard, a veteran politico with major league fundraising stats kept his ‘I'm gonna raise more money than you can' winning streak alive,'” the e-mail said. It later noted that Pollard “surprised the crowd with an announcement that he had helped raise $50,000.”
In 1989, Pollard was the subject of a State Bureau of Investigation probe into whether he violated state law by pushing for the installation of 10 traffic signals at an intersection where he owned property. Pollard sold a piece of it for $185,000 after winning the improvements, which cost taxpayers $28,135. The probe also looked into whether he was steering the course of a new boulevard in Jacksonville to benefit adjacent landowners from whom he raised political contributions.
The SBI found no violation of law, but then-Attorney General Lacy Thornburg said the law needed to be changed. “It remains a concern, however, that no current state law or policy currently is in force which adequately addresses conflicts of interest or appearances of conflict which give rise to allegations such as those which were the subject of the inquiry,” Thornburg wrote.
Pollard today admits he should never have sought public money for the intersection.
“Anything that you do in government, particularly on the Board of Transportation, that slightly resembles favoritism is a no-no,” Pollard said.
On Sept. 21, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that Board of Transportation member Louis Sewell of Jacksonville had steered roughly $375,000 in public money to two road projects adjacent to property that he or his son, Billy, co-owned at the time. Sewell resigned from the board last Thursday, the same day he had planned to hold a fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Perdue, a New Bern Democrat.
Pollard and Sewell are cousins. Gov. Mike Easley appointed Sewell to the board in 2001 after Sewell had helped raise $125,000 for Easley's campaign.
At the Emerald Isle fundraiser, McCrory spoke about the controversy surrounding Sewell.
“During his remarks, Pat McCrory continued to sound the need for reform in Raleigh,” Rouse's e-mail said. “McCrory told the audience that just a few days ago Beverly Perdue said she wanted to be known as the Ethics Governor, yet at the same time she was saying this she knew she had a fund raiser planned at a DOT board member's house who was under investigation.”
Hawke said McCrory has pledged not to put fundraisers on the board, and that includes Pollard.
Pollard, 67, said he is not seeking to serve on the board, or anywhere else in state government if McCrory is elected. But Pollard said he would consider serving in some capacity if McCrory asked.