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Another governor under investigation

RALEIGH — It was a week before the election, and Tom Fetzer had called another news conference to lob grenades at Democrats.

“I predict that she (Gov. Beverly Perdue) won’t run for re-election,” the chairman of the state Republican Party said.

Fetzer went on to say that he expected Perdue either wouldn’t be in office in the fall of 2012 or would be so badly damaged by events swirling around her that she would choose not to run.

His comments followed news that a federal grand jury had been hearing testimony about the Perdue campaign’s unreported air travel and its broader campaign finances. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby had already announced a state investigation into the campaign flights.

Nonetheless, the prediction seemed pretty bold.

The Perdue camp’s air travel woes had been in the news for a while. She and her campaign staff had tried to make amends by disclosing flights, reimbursing companies and paying fines. None of the allegations, already considered by the state Board of Election, had her personally profiting. Democratic Party officials had also rolled out evidence indicating that Republican gubernatorial hopefuls had failed to report air travel, though on a much smaller scale.

Marc Farinella, a spokesman for the Perdue campaign, dismissed Fetzer’s words as pre-election bluster.

“What else would you expect the Republican Party chairman to say a week before an election? His job is to offer up partisan nonsense,” Farinella said.

Farinella may be right. Perdue shows no signs now that she won’t seek another term. She’s scheduled a political fundraiser in Charlotte for next week.

Or perhaps Fetzer knows more than he’s publicly stating.

Whatever the case, the election is over now. The time has come for the perpetual investigations of the executive branch of North Carolina government to either produce evidence of wrongdoing and indictments, or for federal prosecutors to move on.

George Holding, the federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of North Carolina, who has been heading the investigations of the Easley and now the Perdue administrations, is on borrowed time. He’s a holdover from the Bush administration.

So far, the probe of the Easley administration has produced one indictment and one guilty plea, by former Easley lawyer Ruffin Poole, to a single count of income tax evasion.

The Easley investigation has gone on for nearly two years. Holding et al. need to show their hand, with more indictments or by scheduling a sentencing hearing for Poole. The latter would signal that prosecutors don’t have the evidence to proceed against Easley.

As for Perdue, if allegations of wrongdoing extend beyond the nondisclosure of campaign airplane flights, they should be investigated thoroughly. On the other hand, if this latest federal grand jury investigation is just another look at flights for which the Perdue campaign has already paid civil fines, what’s the point?

The bungling of the campaign flights has already weakened Perdue politically. Trying to make them a federal crime will prove a legal dead end.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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