Politics & Government

N.C. elections investigator says she was held back in Perdue flight probe

RALEIGH — The lead investigator at the North Carolina State Board of Elections said Thursday that board chairman Larry Leake ordered her not to interview some witnesses during a probe into 42 undisclosed campaign flights by Gov. Bev Perdue.

Kim Strach, the deputy director of campaign finance at the board, said Leake, who like Perdue is a Democrat, told her to end her investigation without interviewing Zach Ambrose, the governor's longtime chief of staff and campaign manager.

Ambrose was on vacation, and Leake told Strach there was not enough time to wait for him to return, both officials said. Strach said she wanted to ask Ambrose about an unreported flight the governor took to Michigan and an audit he performed of campaign flights. She also wanted to interview at least two other Perdue staffers.

"The chairman said I should just put the report together without doing that," Strach said.

The five-member State Board of Elections is appointed by the governor, with the majority of seats held by the governor's party. Since 1993, when Leake was first appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt, Democrats have controlled the board.

Leake, a Mars Hill lawyer whom Perdue reappointed last year, also sat in as Strach interviewed other members of the governor's staff about the flights on private aircraft. Flights provided to candidates must be reported as donations under state law.

The detailed report that Strach wrote was edited by supervisors to remove references to restrictions placed on her during the investigation into flights by Perdue and other 2008 candidates for governor.

Leake said he was trying to assist Strach in getting the report completed in a timely manner. A public records request for the report had been filed by The News & Observer, and Republican Party officials had complained that the investigation was taking too long, Leake said.

"Kim is suggesting to you that if she could have had until next Christmas that she could have done better," Leake said. "We needed to bring this investigation to an end. 'End' doesn't mean whitewashed."

In a June 25 letter released with the investigative report, elections director Gary Bartlett said "no evidence surfaced indicating any intent of wrongdoing."

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