Basnight may return funds

Published 8:13 am Thursday, April 1, 2010

Staff Writer

NEW BERN — State Sen. Marc Basnight said his campaign would return disputed contributions allegedly tied to Democratic supporter Rusty Carter on notice from the State Board of Elections.
“The Rusty Carter campaign contributions, yes, I will return once the (State) Board of Elections tells me how much. … Rusty gave to my campaign,” Basnight, D-Dare, told area media Wednesday.
“It is my intention to return that money immediately upon notice,” he added. “That may occur (Thursday), before the week is out.”
Basnight was referring to contributions reportedly connected to the Wilmington packaging firm Atlantic Corp.
Carter is the principal owner of Atlantic, said Michael Murchison, an attorney representing Carter and the corporation.
In a telephone interview with the Washington Daily News, Murchison declined to respond directly to Basnight’s comments.
“What I will say, and what we have said consistently, is that, prior to the event which really triggered the initial news coverage, which is the disgorgement of funds by the (Gov. Beverly) Perdue campaign, Atlantic Corp. and Mr. Carter approached all of the relevant authorities that have jurisdiction over this kind of investigation, invited them to look into the matter and promised full cooperation and full disclosure. And that invitation and that instigation, if you will, of dialogue included the Basnight money.”
The related item in question is the legality of $44,500 given to Basnight’s campaign by upper-level managers of Atlantic.
Critics have said the state board should determine whether employees of Atlantic were reimbursed for their contributions.
State law bars anyone from making political contributions of any amount in the name of another person.
If it’s determined that campaign givers have been reimbursed for their contributions, the money shall be paid to the state board, which will deposit it in the state’s civil penalty and forfeiture fund, the law says.
Records in the Carter issue have been sealed because of a criminal investigation by the New Hanover County district attorney’s office, The Associated Press reported.
Murchison said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss what kind of documentation Atlantic had given to authorities in relation to the investigation.
Tom Fetzer, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, has called on Basnight to forfeit the funds immediately, noting that Perdue forfeited nearly $50,000 in contributions related to Carter.
“The Perdue Campaign found the donations to be suspect, and with the recent referral of the investigation by the State Board of Elections to the District Attorney, Senator Basnight should follow the action of the Perdue Campaign and return all contributions linked to Mr. Carter,” Fetzer says in a posting on the N.C. GOP’s Web site.
Basnight’s office had said he would give up the money if the state board found it was given illegally, according to the AP.
The senator re-emphasized that statement Wednesday in an impromptu news conference after a meeting of the N.C.-20 group at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center.
After the news conference, the Washington Daily News asked whether the onus was on the candidate to track the origins of campaign contributions.
That question evoked a strong response.
“The onus is not on the candidate when Rusty does what he does,” Basnight told the Daily News. “Now, the law does not say that.”
The senator posed a question of his own: “How would anybody know when somebody writes a check where he got that from? Any candidate, anywhere in the world? That is not the onus on the candidate.”
He added, “You know that what Rusty did was wrong. We know that, and we wish he had not’ve done it.”
Basnight said his campaign will obey the law.
“Well, we’ll certainly follow the law and return the money, all of it,” he said. “In fact, my treasurer went back to the very beginning and furnished to the (State Board of Elections) staff in Raleigh all that (Carter) had ever given.”
Basnight confirmed that his campaign treasurer had retraced Carter’s contributions dating back through all of his campaigns.
“We wanted to be certain,” he said.
Carter was out of his office Wednesday and was unavailable for comment, a receptionist at Atlantic Corp. told the Daily News by telephone Wednesday afternoon.
For coverage of the N.C.-20 summit, see a future edition.