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Watauga elections board reverses ASU voting decision

The Watauga County Board of Elections has voted to restore Boone's three voting precincts including on the campus of Appalachian State University.

The Watauga board had drawn national attention last month when it voted to combine the precincts into one off campus location. But the new Republican majority reversed itself Wednesday night at the urging of Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

"They could not combine the precincts without my approval,'' Strach told The Winston-Salem Journal. "I had concerns about the plan..and I did express my concerns.''

The newly formed precinct would have had 9,300 voters in a building with only 35 parking spaces and no sidewalk. Critics said it was a way hold down student voting which tended to go Democratic.

The Democrats pushed for the voting place to be moved back to the student union. But the Republican majority moved it to Legends building, which functions as a nightclub. The GOP majority said it would provide better access to non student voters.

Earlier this week, the State Board of Elections overturned another controversial case in which the Pasquotank County Board of Elections ruled that an Elizabeth City State University student didn't meet the eligibility requirements to run for city council.

Civitas requests investigations of state elections agency

UPDATED: The Civitas Institute is requesting the North Carolina attorney general, state auditor, secretary of state and State Board of Elections investigate state election staffers for engaging in political activity, alleging possible criminal violations, in sweeping complaints filed Tuesday.

The conservative think tank also wants inquiries into the conduct of Bob Hall, the director and lobbyist for Democracy North Carolina, an advocacy organization that often butts heads with Civitas.

In the four letters, Civitas President Francis De Luca identifies three areas for investigation that it uncovered in more than 5,000 emails obtained through public records requests. (Read them below.)

Morning Memo: Education bills in House, Senate; film credits get scrutiny

WAS IT REALLY AN APOLOGY? Rep. Larry Pittman issued a letter of apology to House Speaker Thom Tillis. But did he apologize for what he said -- that the potential Republican candidate for U.S. Senate is thwarting gun legislation and other "constitutional conservative" measures -- or just the way he said it? Read it again: "While we do still have some disagreement about process, I have done damage to his reputation in a manner in which I did not consider at the time," Pittman wrote.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Two major education bills in the legislature today: the House will consider a bill to limit pre-K enrollment and the Senate will hear a measure to overhaul how charter schools are regulated. The calendars are full of other measures, touching on everything from the environment to insurance.Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a National Day of Prayer service in Greenville at 12:15 p.m. and then tour the downtown Main Street minutes later. He also plans to attend the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame gala at 7 p.m.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Keep reading below for more on the questions surrounding Mel Watt's confirmation and other North Carolina political news and analysis.***

Strach in, Bartlett out at elections board

The Republican-controlled State Board of Elections Wednesday chose Kim Strach, a veteran campaign investigator, to be the elections board director.

The board chose Strach to replace Gary Bartlett who had been elections director for the past 20 years.

The vote was 3-2 along party-lines, with the Democrats saying they had not time to examine Strach's credentials and thought there should be a longer transition for Bartlett, who was appointed by Democrats. The move came just several days after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory named a new elections board, a move that typically occurs when there is a change in political parties.

Strach had worked for the state elections campaign staff the past 13 where she was heavily involved in a wide-range of investigations of such political figures as former House Speaker Jim Black, former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, former state Reps. Thomas Wright and Michael Decker and former Governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue. All but Decker are Democrats.

McCrory campaign accepted disputed contribution under little-known provision

Pat McCrory's campaign accepted a $4,000 contribution from a nonregistered PAC that appears inappropriate at face value, but may be allowed under a little-known caveat in the state's campaign finance law.

The check came Oct. 20 from the American Federation for Children, a 501(c)4 nonprofit that advocates for school choice, based in Washington with a related PAC under a different name in Indiana. It is not a registered state PAC or federal PAC -- a requirement for a candidates to accept a contribution.

Seeing it, Greg Flynn, a Raleigh campaign finance watchdog, filed a complaint against McCrory's campaign with the N.C. State Board of Elections. But state election officials are leaning toward dismissing the complaint, citing a provision in the law that would seem to allow any non-PAC entities to make direct campaign contributions if they aren't tied too closely with a business.

Under Ch. 163-278.19(f) of state election law appears to allow contributions from entities without a business interest and not established by a business if they don't receive more than 10 percent of their total revenues from corporations.

Document(s):
McCroryAFC.pdf

Morning Memo: McCrory begins work as legislature revs its engine

ON TAP TODAY: Gov. Pat likes his new digs. The new Republican governor starts his term with a cabinet meeting Monday morning at his new home, the Executive Mansion. McCrory had the cabinet to lunch at the mansion Saturday, too. The event is closed-door but McCrory will give a press conference later in the morning before heading to the mountains for his first stop on his statewide introduction tour.

Worth noting: McCrory's "open house" events require advance tickets. Free tickets but nonetheless.

***Welcome to the new DOME MORNING MEMO. This daily feature will serve as a tipsheet for the day in North Carolina politics -- previewing the next day's big story, breaking news that drives the political agenda and reviewing the latest dispatches from the state's political scribes. Consider it a nod to Dome's favorite D.C. morning briefings from the likes of Politico, NBC and TPM. It's an evolving product, so send tips, ideas, thoughts or even a better name to dome@newsobserver.com. And thanks for reading. Much more below.***

Moore miffed about elections board report on flights

Former gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore is hot with the N.C. Board of Elections about omissions to a recent report about campaign flights.

The section about Moore in the report, written by campaign finance investigator Kim Strach, said that the former state treasurer's campaign had destroyed all of its records, in violation of state rules requiring that those records be kept until at least January 2011.

But Strach's supervisors edited out two key passages about Moore from the final version of the report, according to a copy her original draft. Strach wrote that Moore's campaign treasurer said she believed the campaign had properly reported all flights taken by the candidate on private aircraft.

Strach also reported the Moore's campaign manager had sough advisory opinions from staff at the elections board about how to properly report in-kind donations of travel on private aircraft and that the investigator found no evidence that Moore's campaign had failed to do so.

A copy of a letter from Moore's campaign about air travel was also removed from the exhibits provided with the board's report.

Efforts to reach Moore for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. But Moore apparently did call the elections board to complain about how information about his campaign was portrayed in the report.

In an e-mail exchange between Strach and deputy elections director Johnnie McLean released through a public records request, the investigator makes clear that Moore was not happy.

"I was berated for a significant amount of time on the phone by Richard Moore yesterday," Strach wrote McLean on July 2. "He was extremely angry about an editorial in the News and Observer critical of him that was based on the report that was released by our office. He explained to me that the report did not address the fact that his treasurer had been responsive to the inquiry and had provided the information that was the subject of the February 4, 2010 letter. Further, he explained that the report gave the impression that he just simply destroyed records and was no better than others that had not disclosed travel. He questioned my motives and understanding of the impact of reports such as the one released."

Strach also questioned why her supervisors had deleted the additional information about Moore from the final report, without the investigator's approval. "The report that was released does not reflect the fact that the response from his treasurer did answer the questions in the letter," Strach wrote to McLean, who had helped edit the report. "I was baffled when I saw that that language had been removed. It was not an opinion. It was factual information from the treasurer’s response. That one statement showed that the letter they submitted advised that they believed that all flights had been reported and no in-kind travel was utilized."

Copies of the elections board report, showing the changes made by Strach's supervisors, is attached below.



Document(s):
BOE report on flights.pdf

Elections board investigator speaks out about her bosses

Investigator stymied?: The lead investigator at the State Board of Elections said Thursday that board chairman Larry Leake ordered her not to interview some witnesses during a probe into 42 undisclosed campaign flights by Gov. Bev Perdue. Kim Strach, the deputy director of campaign finance at the board, said Leake, who like Perdue is a Democrat, told her to end her investigation without interviewing Zach Ambrose, the governor's longtime chief of staff and campaign manager. Leake said there was time pressure to finish the probe. (N&O)

GOP in the money: As they fight for control of the legislature, the N.C. Republican Party has seen its fundraising nearly double since 2008, while the Democratic Party has raised less than half of what it had two years ago. Democratic legislative leaders, however, still have bigger war chests than their GOP counterparts. (CharO)

Waiting game: Nearly six months have gone by since Judges Albert Diaz of Charlotte and James Wynn of Raleigh landed on the to-do list of the full U.S. Senate, and still they have not received confirmation votes. Both men are nominated for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, a step below the Supreme Court. But now they're waiting in line behind Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. (N&O)

Perdue investigation part of larger look at candidate flights

N.C. Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer handed out copies of a letter Wednesday showing that the State Board of Elections is investigating the campaign finances of Gov. Bev Perdue.

Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said that the investigation is part of a larger look at how all candidates for governor in 2004 and 2008 handled plane trips. That investigation arose when testimony in a hearing about former Gov. Mike Easley's finances suggested that other candidates had undisclosed flights.

So far, the various campaigns are cooperating and the board has left the files open to the public. Closing the files would be a step toward a more formal investigation or hearing, such as the one the board held about Easley.

"The information has not reached the level that causes us concern that it needs to be closed," Bartlett said.

N.C. Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer has previously filed two complaints over undisclosed campaign flights for Perdue. He sent a third letter with new allegations Wednesday. The board was already aware of the problems with flights because Perdue's campaign approached the board to report undisclosed flights in July, Bartlett said. 

Perdue's campaign has since disclosed a total of 31 flights and said the omissions were mistakes.



Document(s):
elections letter.pdf

Board looks into national party groups

North Carolina's chief campaign finance investigator says two national party groups seeking to influence elections are breaking state law.

Kim Strach, deputy director of the State Board of Elections, testified Tuesday in a board hearing. The board is examining how the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the Republican Governors Association raise and spend money for North Carolina, the Associated Press reports.

Strach said the two groups are raising money on behalf of sister organizations registered in North Carolina but aren't disclosing the contributions properly. The groups disagree.

The Republican sister group has spent $3 million to support GOP nominee for governor Pat McCrory. The Democratic group is supporting General Assembly candidates.

The elections board could order the groups to comply with the law or block them from spending in the state.

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