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Democracy South, the campaign finance watchdog group, today released copies of letters it has sent to six candidates for statewide office who are in apparent violation of a North Carolina campaign disclosure law.

The law, passed in 1997, requires statewide candidates with over $5,000 of activity to file their income and expense reports in an electronic format readable by the State Board of Election. The law is designed to facilitate the Board’s ability to audit the reports – some of which run hundreds of pages – and to make the information more quickly available to the public via the Internet.

“It’s very troublesome that some of these candidates with large campaigns don’t respect the public’s right-to-know enough to fulfill such a basic requirement of the law,” said Pete MacDowell, executive director of Democracy South. “No doubt some have suffered technical problems in their honest effort to comply, but they need to do more. It’s unfair and bad policy to let some major candidates break the law while so many others have taken the steps to comply.”

MacDowell noted that Richard Vinroot, Republican gubernatorial nominee, rightly criticized his Democratic opponent, Mike Easley, for failing to disclose the occupational information on scores of his donors – but Vinroot has not filed his own report in an accessible format. “It’s been over two months since a disk was due with the information, and the deadline for a new quarterly report is fast approaching,” he said. “The Vinroot organization simply has to make compliance a bigger priority or its charges against Mike Easley will seem hollow and hypocritical.”

In addition to Vinroot, Democracy South sent letters to these general election candidates: Barbara Howe, Libertarian for Governor; Meg Scott Phipps, Democrat for Commissioner of Agriculture; Mike Causey, Republican for Commissioner of Insurance; Henry McCoy, Republican for Treasurer; and Cherie Berry, Republican for Commissioner of Labor.

Others – such as Mike Easley, Betsy Cochrane, Beverly Perdue, Roy Cooper, Dan Boyce, Jim Long, Elaine Marshall, H.D. Blake, Ralph Campbell, and Steve Troxler – have submitted files.

Democracy South has previously graded legislators on their compliance with the occupational disclosure requirement of the law. The watchdog group has also filed complaints with the State Board of Election, including the complaint that triggered prosecution of rest home magnate
A. Stephen Pierce for illegally funneling $101,000 through straw donors to four candidates.

MacDowell said that if candidates did not comply with the electronic disclosure requirement by July 12, Democracy South will ask the State Board of Election to begin assessing the candidates a penalty of $250 per day, up to the maximum of $10,000. “The statute levies this penalty for incomplete or late reports,” said MacDowell. “We believe an 11-week grace period is sufficient. It’s time to make the candidates take their responsibility to the public seriously.”