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.  

 

1
Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • taylor.armerding.jpg Obama's equal pay exaggeration leads us all into danger

    The president's claims of national shame over gender-based pay inequity spring from distorted calculations, as well as some convenient political math.

    April 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Teens trading naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 12, 2014

  • Brent Laurenz If you want to vote in primary, you need to register to vote now

    RALEIGH – North Carolina voters will head to the polls on May 6 this year to cast ballots in important primary elections across the state.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Scott Mooneyham Heeding the voter fraud call in N.C.

    RALEIGH – Legislators found the findings outrageous.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Roots

    I took a few minutes over the weekend to enjoy our yard and the arrival of spring. There seems to be so much work that needs to be done, it is hard to decide what to do first. I am excited that I got to run my tiller through the garden. I didn’t go very deep, but I did at least break up the soil. I have a couple of raised beds and the soil in them was in very good shape. I didn’t plant my peas and now after the big rain we got on Monday I realize that I missed a window of opportunity.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 10 tips for surviving a severe allergy season

    My colleague Brady Dennis reported recently that the arrival of warmer weather will soon unleash a pollen tsunami in parts of the country where the winter has been especially long and cold. Here are some survival tips from Clifford W. Bassett, an allergy specialist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

    April 11, 2014

  • Is a paleo vegetarian diet possible?

    Research shows most people can follow a regimented eating plan for a short time. That's not the challenge. The challenge is finding a healthful eating plan you can follow day after day and achieve your long-term health goals. At this point, it doesn't appear that the paleo eating plan meets these objectives for most people.

    April 10, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 2.16.35 PM.png Are Americans smart to stop drinking diet sodas?

    Recent data from Beverage Digest suggest many are cutting back on diet sodas. Consumption of diet sodas fell more than that of sugary sodas in 2013. This raises two questions: Why is total consumption declining, and is drinking diet soda harmful to health?

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • To get quality care, it helps to be the right kind of patient

    I am a family physician. Sometimes I must step out of the comfort of my clinical role and into that of patient or family caregiver. Generally, these trips to the other side of the exam table inspire a fair amount of anxiety.

    April 10, 2014

  • Hospice of Stanly County should be the one we support

    Regarding your recent article about Community Hospice relocating its offices from one location in Troy to another, let me point out a few things.

    April 10, 2014

House Ads
Seasonal Content