Governor Bev Perdue has had a rough six months.
In August, her campaign was fined $30,000 for failing to report 41 private flights on donors’ planes she took across the state—last week, one of her biggest donors was indicted in the case for allegedly causing the campaign to falsely report his donations. Already under scrutiny for promoting a friend to lead the state’s highway patrol in 2009, the North Carolina Democrat finds herself confronted with depressed polling numbers that may portend an uphill battle for re-election in 2012.
A Wake County grand jury indicted Robert Caldwell Feb. 8 on a felony obstruction of justice charge for actions dating back to 2007. He stands accused of hiding a donation to the Perdue Committee ahead of the 2008 gubernatorial election—money that paid for a campaign flight—when he had already given the campaign $4,000, the maximum amount allowed by N.C. law.
“The maximum sentence for such a charge is, I believe, 30 months,” Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.
Marc Farinella, a Florida political consultant and a spokesman for the governor, said Perdue was not aware of any wrongdoing.
“The Perdue Committee was unaware of this scheme,” he said in a statement to the press. “We do not condone any activity that violates campaign finance laws, and we believe strongly that North Carolinians are entitled to truthful and accurate reporting of campaign contributions.”
A recent report released by the FBI found that Perdue abused her power in the 1990s as a state senator to promote her longtime friend, Randy Glover, to a higher rank within the N.C. Highway Patrol. The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Friday that in 2009, Perdue encouraged the resignation of Walter Wilson, Jr, then-commander of the highway patrol and replaced him with Glover. Less than a year later, Glover resigned amid a series of ethical scandals within the force.
Willoughby has closed his investigation into the governor’s former air travel payments and determined that Perdue herself was not involved in any wrongdoing.
“The indictment made it clear that the governor is not suspected of engaging in anything illegal,” he said.
Regardless of whether Perdue committed any crimes, the controversies are generating negative press that may be contributing to her low poll numbers.
Survey results released by Public Policy Polling Jan. 26 showed the governor trailing by 7 points in a hypothetical 2012 match-up against her most likely contender, Republican Pat McCrory, whom she narrowly defeated for the position in 2008.
Associate political science professor Kerry Haynie said despite the numbers, he believes Perdue’s prospects for re-election are better than they appear.
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“Actually, I think right now the 2012 [gubernatorial] election is up in the air,” he said. “A lot will depend on the state of the economy at that time and also the national political climate. If the president continues to rise in the polls and if the economy continues to improve, the chances are good that Perdue will be re-elected.”
Haynie added that even if Perdue’s donors or other elements within her campaign are found guilty in court, the governor is unlikely to be found directly responsible for any wrongdoing.
“From what we know, [Caldwell’s actions] were done without the knowledge of the campaign,” he said. “These campaigns raise millions of dollars from thousands of donors, so candidates like Perdue are very much detached from the… financing part of the campaign. I’m sure the governor thought everything was being paid for the proper way.”