‘Campaign finance watchdog’ calling for investigation into Court of Appeals Judge Phil Berger Jr.’s past report

Judge Phil Berger, Jr.

A former executive director of Democracy North Carolina is calling on the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to investigate “apparent campaign finance violations” related to Phil Berger Jr., a current Court of Appeals judge and the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Bob Hall, who is retired and describes himself as a “campaign finance watchdog,” wrote a letter Thursday to State Board Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach outlining the alleged violations. In the letter, Hall references Berger’s second quarter campaign finance report from 2016.

Hall reiterated in an email that his call for an investigation was in no way related to voting rights organization Democracy NC.

Berger Jr., through staff at his Court of Appeals chamber, told NC Policy Watch on Thursday morning that he had no comment about the allegations.

Hall alleges that two donors listed on the Berger for Judge Committee’s 2016 campaign disclosure reports did not make the contributions attributed to them. He does not name the individuals to protect their privacy, but said he will provide that information to the State Board separately. He also states in the letter that he has recorded conversations with those individuals.

Other allegations by Hall include Berger not disclosing food and beverage expenses for a fundraising event in July 2016 at the home of Olivia Oxendine, a Robeson County educator who is an appointed member of the State Board of Education.

“Court of Appeals candidate Phil Berger Jr. and his father, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr., attended the fundraising event,” the letter states. “In 2012, the state Senate led by Phil Berger Sr. refused to approve appointments to the State Board of Education made by then Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat. As a result of this action, largely controlled by Senate leader Phil Berger, the Republican governor elected in 2012, Pat McCrory, had the opportunity to make four appointments to the Board of Education in his first year, rather than just two. Olivia Oxendine was one of those four appointments.”

Hall also accuses Berger of not disclosing expenditures or in-kind contributions for a separate fundraising event held at a Greensboro restaurant in April 2016.

“Importantly, Phil Berger Jr.’s campaign was not ignorant of the requirement to disclose expenditures related to fundraising events,” the letter states. “For example, the Berger for Judge Committee disclosure reports list two payments to Caffé Luna for ‘catering’ – one recorded on April 22, 2016 for $1,533, and one on December 16, 2016 for $894.25. Caffé Luna is a popular Raleigh venue for political fundraising events; in fact, Sen. Phil Berger was a featured speaker at one on April 13, and another state legislator held a fundraiser there on April 19. It’s not clear if Sen. Berger attended either of the Caffé Luna events in 2016 that benefited his son, but nearly all the Triangle donations recorded at the time of these two events came from lobbyists, political action committees or political appointees.”

Hall also draws some conclusions about large donors that he states in the letter call for further investigation — one  is Tom Fetzer of Wilmington, a registered lobbyist and former NC Republican Party chair, and the other is from Pittsboro couple Maurice and Mary Raynor.

Fetzer made his largest donation to any single candidate in 25 years to Berger Jr. and several months after that contribution, he was appointed to a seat on the UNC Board of Governors by the state Senate led by Berger Sr., the letter states.

The Raynors were reported on Berger Jr.’s campaign finance report as owners of M&M Alpaca Farm in Chatham County, according to the letter. But they have owned many video-poker sweepstakes “parlors” across the state for years, and at the time of their contributions, one of their stores in Rockingham County was allegedly under threat of being shut down by the Eden police department.

“The sweepstakes parlor, called Starlite Eden 1, had been allowed to operate while Phil Berger Jr. served as district attorney for Rockingham County,” the letter states. “Some district attorneys across the state supported efforts by law enforcement officials to investigate sweepstakes operations for illegal activity, but DA Berger told local police to ‘hold off’ going after the parlors, according to media reports and the police.”

The parlor was eventually shut down under Berger Jr.’s successor but the Raynors made their donation to him at the time they were exploring legal options, closed the shop for a few weeks and then reopened it, according to Hall. It’s the only contribution they’ve made to a campaign for a state candidate in 25 years, the letter states.

“Considering that the Raynors’ $10,000 contribution to Phil Berger Jr. was made in June 2016, it would be more accurate for Berger’s campaign disclosure report to identify Maurice and Mary Raynor as the president and vice president of Starlites Tech Corp. or owners of sweepstake parlors, rather than simply as owners of an alpaca farm,” Hall writes.

Hall ends the letter by saying he looks forward to an investigation by the State Board.

“Complete and timely disclosure of the money involved in the public elections process is vital to a free and fair democracy of, by, and for the people,” he wrote.

Read Hall’s letter below:

Complaint Berger Jr 2018 by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

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