Campaign Indictments May Not Be Perdue's Worst Problem
For Gov. Beverly Perdue, the news wasn't unexpected. The rumor mill in the state capital had been churning for months.
Finally, the indictments came down. Three -former campaign aides or supporters of the governor were charged with crimes related to the running of her 2008 campaign.
Peter Reichard, finance director for the Perdue campaign, faces a charge of obstruction of justice. Julia Leigh Sitton, another campaign aide, and Trawick "Buzzy" Stubbs Jr., a key Perdue supporter, were charged with obstruction of justice and filing a false campaign finance report.
In announcing the indictments, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby made it clear that he doesn't expect Perdue to face any criminal charges and stressed her cooperation. Still, the collective wisdom within Raleigh political circles seemed to be that the indictments amounted to a devastating blow to Perdue's hopes for a second term.
The Republicans wanting to oust her from the governor's mansion hope that is the case. So does state Rep. Bill Faison, a Democratic lawyer from Orange County who has notions of replacing Perdue on next fall's ballot and hasn't been bashful about letting loose his criticisms of the governor.
I'm not so sure that the collective wisdom is all that wise, or that her opponents should get their hopes up.
Obviously, Perdue suffered a bad day when the indictments were announced.
Just as obviously, and no matter what Willoughby says, the criminal cases could cause some thread to unravel exposing more wrongdoing that subjects Perdue herself to serious, "pay-to-play" questions.
Let's assume that doesn't happen.
If so, the larger public - particularly Democrats and any others already inclined to vote for Perdue - may be more perplexed than outraged by the criminal charges.
Why shouldn't they be?
Under the current state of our campaign finance laws, the bigger crime committed by Reichard et al. may be stupidity.
The courts have turned modern-day campaign finance into the Wild West. Meanwhile, we've got a deadly gunslinger charged with spitting in the street.
If Reichard had set up a shadow campaign allegedly independent of the Perdue campaign, he could have paid Sitton from whatever corporate source of money he wanted and faced limited scrutiny.
That's how political operatives in Washington do it. That's how more and more political operatives in North Carolina will do it unless something changes on the legal front.
And much of the public already assumes that the big money -moving through campaigns is -corrupting. In one national poll, 68 percent of respondents said they believe "big contributors to -political parties sometimes block decisions by the federal -government ... that could improve people's everyday lives."
So the political class shouldn't be surprised if allegations of an off-the-books campaign worker and some free campaign-related airplane flights causes the public to yawn.
That's not to suggest that Perdue is in good shape politically.
At this point, though, a weak economy and her occasional -periods of wishy-washy leadership are more likely to be her political undoing than a criminal case against campaign workers.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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