Wide-ranging state investigation focuses on political consultant

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by Jordan Green

A complaint filed against the Committee to Elect Susan Speaks Frye stemming from her last campaign remains under investigation by the state Board of Elections.

A third-quarter campaign finance report — the last one before the election — filed on Oct. 25, 2010 reported that the Frye campaign raised and spent no money from July 1 through Oct. 6, with $270 of cash on hand for the campaign’s final stretch. Chris Church, a political consultant hired by Frye, signed off on the report as treasurer for the campaign. Then, on Dec. 22 — after the election — Church filed an amended report revealing that the campaign had raised $14,647 and spent $12,823, with $2,094 cash on hand.

When he filed the each of the reports, Church signed a standard certification stating that  “this report is complete, true and correct and that I have been trained by the NC State Board of Elections.”

Article 22A of state election law, which regulates contributions and expenditures in political campaigns, includes a provision holding that “any statement required to be filed under this Article shall be signed and certified as true and correct” and that the certification “shall be treated as under oath, and any person making a certification under this Article knowing the information to be untrue is guilty of a Class I felony.”

Mike Horn, a political consultant who has worked with both Republican and Democratic and candidates including Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, explained the reason for the disclosure requirements.

“All of these offices are public offices, and carry with them the burden of maintaining the public trust,” he said. “In that contest, it’s important that voters know who’s funding various campaigns…. At the state level, we try to have such disclosures to reveal whether there are ethics considerations by the contributors, potential conflicts of interest, or there are agendas by certain contributing entities.”

More operative perhaps in the 2010 race for clerk of superior court between Frye and Republican Jeff Polston, who raised only $590 in the final stretch of the campaign, is the impact of misinformation on the other candidate.

“There are some times when candidates or their committees feel that if they can not disclose the resources that they have to promote their campaign, that it may influence a challenger’s campaign to take certain actions that they may not have taken if there had been full disclosure,” Horn said. “Every candidate needs to raise money. Contributors look at campaign reports and say, ‘I don’t know what you’re worried about; your opponent hasn’t raised any money. I don’t feel the need to contribute to your campaign.’ If I’m the other candidate and I see that my opponent hasn’t raised any money I may rethink taking out a second mortgage on my house. It can certainly impact not only the campaign, but how potential contributors act.”

Frye said Church let her down.

“He was horrible,” she said. “I had hired him and trusted him. That was his job to file those reports.”

Church declined to comment for this story.

Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said “it’s not characteristic” for investigations into alleged campaign violations to take as long as this one has.

“It’s part of a certain set that we’re looking at,” he said. “I can’t give you more information, because that’s party of the investigation.”

Frye said the State Board of Elections has reviewed all of the campaign-finance reports handled by Church in his work for multiple candidates across the state.

“I think they’re looking to charge him,” she said.