Burr: Scandal affects many

Published 7:31 pm Friday, January 29, 2010

Staff Writer

Investigations surrounding former Gov. Mike Easley have an impact on every public servant, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a wide-ranging interview.
Burr stopped short of saying that the controversies engulfing Easley and his administration will sway voters in this year’s elections.
“I’m not sure that I can answer what effect it will have on the midterm elections,” he told the Daily News by telephone Thursday.
“I think I can honestly say that it has an impact on every person who serves in public service,” he continued, “and makes it that much more difficult for us to perform our job and to continue in public service, by the bad decisions of others.”
Easley hasn’t been charged with a crime, but the two-term Democrat’s well-publicized troubles reportedly are rattling the nerves of some of his fellow party members, who fear the whiff of scandal could rub off on them at the polls.
Some Democrats are nervous anyway, given pundits’ predictions that the party in control of the White House will lose congressional seats in this midterm year, partly because the economy is still in the doldrums.
Late last year, the State Board of Elections ordered Easley’s campaign to pay a $100,000 penalty for previously undisclosed airplane trips, The Associated Press has reported.
Ruffin Poole, the ex-governor’s onetime top man in the governor’s mansion, has been indicted on 51 counts as part of a wide federal corruption probe, various media outlets have reported.
The 64-page indictment demonstrates that people who have been close to Easley are cooperating with authorities, one observer of the case told the Daily News this week.
Poole was scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon, according to AP.
In the interview, Burr said he doesn’t plan to use the Easley matter on the campaign trail, but he left the field open for other GOP stalwarts who already are wielding the issue as a big stick with which to hit Democrats.
“I don’t plan to make it an issue, but if somebody does then, yes, it could influence the way North Carolinians vote in the fall,” the senator said.
He added, “I think controversies like that have played a role in national politics for the last several cycles. They were individual decisions — bad ones — from members of Congress and people in the administration.”
Asked if he foresees a Republican landslide similar to the one that shook Congress in 1994, Burr replied, “I think the potential exists today.”
Burr suggested an overwhelming victory depends on two factors: the public mood in November, and the state of the economy.
“I think those are going to be the two driving things,” he said.
Asked about a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that loosens restrictions on union and corporate monetary contributions to political campaigns, Burr was matter of fact.
“What the ruling concluded is that corporations and labor unions have a constitutional right, from the free-speech clause, to contribute and participate in the election process,” he commented. “I will say that in no way, shape, or form, contradictory to what the president said last night, provides an avenue for foreign participation financially in campaigns.”
In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Barack Obama sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s majority ruling.
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities,” AP quoted the president as saying.
Obama voiced fears that the court’s decision means multi-national corporations could wield influence in U.S. campaigns from outside the country.
Noting that he’s not an attorney by profession, Burr asserted that the ruling “explicitly says in the majority’s opinion in that case that they have not made a determination about the free-speech clause pertaining to foreign companies.”
Firm restrictions on foreign companies’ participation in elections, as defined by the Federal Elections Commission, already are in place, Burr said.
For more on Burr’s re-election effort, and for information about his potential Democratic opponents, see future editions.