The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

January 30, 2013

Avoiding another Michael Decker

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 — RALEIGH — Ten years ago this week, Michael Decker carved out a special place in North Carolina legislative history for himself.

Decker, a Forsyth County Republican, had been a back-bencher known mostly for his conservative stands on social issues. Among his fellow House Republicans, he was not seen as an especially capable legislator.

After the 2002 elections, when Republicans won a scant 61-59 majority, the GOP looked as if it would control the House chamber.  

Then Decker did the unthinkable.

He switched political parties. That switch ultimately led to a co-speakership between the previous Democratic House speaker Jim Black and Republican Richard Morgan.

Three years later, Decker would plead guilty in federal court to taking $50,000 from Black in exchange for his party switch.

Well, before that guilty plea, Decker’s use of campaign donations, most of them arranged by Black, became the subject of critical news pieces.

Decker tapped his campaign coffers to fly to Florida, buy a van and drive back to North Carolina. He wrote checks from his campaign account to pay hotel bills when in Raleigh.

In response to these revelations and the wider-ranging scandal that sent Black to prison, legislators passed a series of ethics laws that, among other things, prohibited legislators from spending campaign money on personal expenses.

But they also created an exemption for expenses associated with “holding public office.”

The idea was that it would be better to spend campaign dollars rather than tax dollars to furnish a legislative office beyond the minimum or send flowers for the funeral of a former legislator.  

Legislators seem to be racking up a lot of these office-holding expenses lately.

Recent campaign finance reports show that many state lawmakers are charging off tens of thousands of dollars in “office holding” expenses to their campaign accounts. The expenses include meals at steakhouses, rent paid for Raleigh housing during legislative sessions, air travel and even parking tickets.

They can charge off those expenses because state election officials have determined that any spending is OK as long as a candidate can say that he or she would not have spent the money if not for their elected office.

One legislator, Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican, may have run afoul of even that loose standard.

His campaign account is being audited after his campaign finance reports showed him spending $100,000 over the past two years paying off credit card bills.

This dipping into the campaign account is not surprising when considering how little legislators make — $13,800 for rank-and-file lawmaker, plus per diem and other expense payments that can bring total compensation to about $40,000.

As Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina notes, legislators are on duty whether the legislature is in session or not. They shouldn’t be expected to spend money out of their own pockets to respond to a constituent.

The law still needs clarification, perhaps tied to a boost in pay for legislators.

Spending a little more tax money on our legislators is worth the price of avoiding another Michael Decker.  


Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • D.G. Martin Read others’ views to be better informed, decide for yourself

    “I don’t read The Washington Post. That is not where I get my ideas.”

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon This isn’t medical marijuana

    As state legislators debated allowing the use of an extract from marijuana plants to treat seizure disorders over the past couple of weeks, it was evident that social conservatives – there are many of them in the General Assembly – felt a tinge of unease about it, even as almost every one of them voted yes.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Friends and contentment

    Last week I made my annual trip up the mountain to Sparta. My friends have a secluded home near a babbling brook. Their home and property are a haven for peace. It’s a two-plus hour ride to their home that doesn’t feel that long because I look so forward to my time with this great couple. When I arrive, the conversation seems to pick up right where we left it the last time we saw each other.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thanks for the honest deed

    I would like to thank the person that found my wallet in the parking lot of Harris Teeter on July 23 and turned it in to the Albemarle Police.

    July 29, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • We need your help

    Hurray for the Albemarle City Council. Council plans to battle N.C. Department of Transportation’s ranking of all 13 projects in Stanly County to the bottom of their priority list. Council is setting up petitions in various city buildings for citizens to sign.

    July 28, 2014

  • Council asks veterans to seek office

    The terms of office for the leaders of the Stanly County Veterans Council ended June 30. A call is being sent to veterans council members requesting candidates for the four elective offices of the council. A meeting has been set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the DAV building. All council members are urged to attend.

    July 28, 2014

  • Mike Walden The gains and gaps in our economy

    Twice a year, I pull out my cloudy crystal ball and attempt to make some predictions about the direction and pace of the North Carolina economy. I just finished my latest effort and, as usual, the results are a combination of pluses and minuses.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jason O. Boyd Yellow journalism takes on new form, people are dumber for it

    Time to get on the soapbox for a few minutes.
    Let me clear my throat. Eh ... hem!
    People are dumb.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brent Laurenz Special election adds to the mix

    RALEIGH – A busy slate of judicial elections this November got even busier recently when Judge John Martin of the N.C. Court of Appeals announced his retirement.
    A special statewide election to fill Martin’s seat will be added to the general election ballot, joining the four N.C. Supreme Court seats and three N.C. Court of Appeals races already slated for this fall.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Seasonal Content