Charges Filed Against Hobbs Over Campaign Contributions
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
District Attorney Maureen Krueger filed criminal charges Thursday morning against former state Sen. Fred Hobbs over political campaign contributions.
Documents she filed with the court allege that Hobbs made illegal corporate contributions to the 2008 political campaigns of Gov. Beverly Perdue and outgoing N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight. They say Hobbs, acting as an officer of his company, Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, "made or caused to be" illegal contributions. The charges are misdemeanors
At the same time, in Raleigh, the State Board of Elections fined Hobbs $150,000 for illegally "making political contributions in the name of another" as a result of a settlement agreement with him.
The state board hearing Thursday morning came in response to a complaint filed by state Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer, who said political donations by employees of Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates looked suspicious.
Speaking to the board on his client's behalf, Raleigh attorney Michael Weisel stressed that Hobbs had cooperated fully, had disclosed everything, provided all supporting documentation and provided interviews whose transcripts were part of the record before the board.
"I believe that everything has been fully disclosed," Weisel said. "Certainly it will come out after the (criminal) matter is resolved with Moore County."
The state board has been assisting Krueger in her investigation, but few details have so far been made public.
"Our file has been closed due to the criminal nature of it," state board Chairman Larry Leake said. "It is in the hands of the district attorney. Our staff will concur that we have obtained everything that we believe to be out there. The information that is being relied upon by Ms. Krueger is information that was totally developed by this board.
"She's expressed nothing but appreciation toward the board's staff and the board and has not indicated any concerns about the quality of the investigation."
Hobbs had funneled about $148,000 over the course of 11 years to various campaigns, Weisel said, as delineated in the report.
"In the terms of our settlement discussions, Mr. Hobbs takes full and complete responsibility for 'contributions in the name of another,'" Weisel said.
He handed over a personal check from Hobbs for $150,000 to the attorney for the board to pay the civil penalty, according to the settlement agreement.
In Carthage, Krueger had just filed the class 2 misdemeanor charges against Hobbs. She served them on upon P. Wayne Robbins, attorney for Hobbs, Krueger said in a certificate of service filed with the court Thursday morning.
Hobbs could not be reached for comment. He was on his way to Costa Rica with his son on a long-planned trip, his office said. Before leaving, he wrote a letter to members of the board of Partners for Progress to advise them of the situation. Hobbs chairs the board of the economic development organization.
"The use of the contributions by me and others was intended to promote the election and/or re-election of Democratic candidates to the North Carolina State Senate," Hobbs said in his letter. "As you are certainly aware, Moore County is not a very fertile fundraising territory for Democratic candidates, so in order to help I asked various members of my staff to voluntarily make contributions to Sen. Basnight and explained to them that I would reimburse them for those contributions.
"At no time were any of my employees forced or coerced in any way to make the contributions and they were all told if they were not comfortable doing this to just tell me so."
Hobbs insists in the letter that neither he nor his company received anything out of it in return for the contributions.
"I never asked for any benefits from these contributions nor did I ever receive any," he said in the letter. "Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates never asked for nor received any political favoritism for its clients involving applications for grants and/or federal and state loans. These facts have been documented in the settlement agreement that I have reached with the State Board of Elections, which will publicly state that at no time was any attempt made by me or my firm to influence any office holder or use any influence on any grant or loan application."
It is illegal for corporations to donate to political campaigns. Individuals are forbidden to contribute more than $4,000 per candidate per election. It is against the law to pass money to a campaign through another person, as Hobbs admitted doing. Purdue's and Basnight's campaigns will have to return the money.
"I am personally embarrassed that this has occurred," Hobbs said in his letter. "I am equally ashamed that I engaged in this behavior. Having served in the Senate and knowing the cost of such endeavors, I was attempting to help elect Democratic senators. That fact does not justify my actions, but it gives you some insight into my mind-set at the time of the contributions."
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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