Woolard: Butterfield took ‘bribe’

Published 6:40 am Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Staff Writer

In a series of news conferences scattered across the 1st Congressional District on Tuesday, a Republican congressional candidate accused his Democratic rival of taking a “political bribe” from embattled U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.
As national Republicans tried to make hay with Rangel’s troubles by tarring his fellow Democrats with the same brush, Ashley Woolard wasted no time taking the cue.
“G.K. Butterfield has taken a political bribe, and I’m here today to ask him to give it back,” Woolard said in a brief speech to around 22 people gathered at his Washington campaign headquarters.
Later, he repeated, “Rep. G.K. Butterfield has taken a political bribe. I ask him to give it back.”
The Washington Republican was referring to a $4,000 campaign contribution that Butterfield’s committee accepted from the National Leadership Political Action Committee, which is affiliated with Rangel.
According to The Washington Post and The Associated Press, Rangel is under investigation by the House ethics committee amid allegations he was embroiled in a conflict of interest and failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets.
Woolard raised questions about whether Butterfield, who serves on the ethics committee, can fairly judge Rangel in light of the campaign contribution.
In a prepared statement released Tuesday, Butterfield indicated the contribution was old news.
“While Congressman Rangel’s National Leadership PAC has donated $4,000 to my political campaign, all of those donations were made prior to my appointment to the (ethics) Committee,” the Wilson incumbent was quoted as saying. “The bulk of the donations — $3,000 — came nearly five years ago during the 2004 election cycle. It is common for members of Congress or their leadership PAC to donate funds to assist those aspiring for a Congressional seat.”
Asked whether it was fair to judge Butterfield’s approach before the outcome of the ethics proceeding, Woolard said the congressman has had “plenty of time to resolve this issue.”
He soon acknowledged that $4,000 is “not a major amount of money,” and that Butterfield, whose campaign had over $300,000 cash on hand at last report, wouldn’t miss the funds.
“Was this a legal contribution? Yes,” Woolard said. “Was it right? Answer’s no.”
Referring to the time Butterfield spent serving as a justice on the N.C. Supreme Court, Woolard added, “Justice Butterfield would not have taken money from someone that he was getting ready to judge. And, if he had, he would’ve recused himself from the case. And I’m just asking him to do the right thing and return the money.”
In his release, Butterfield asserts that his membership on the ethics committee “is a serious responsibility.”
“For 15 years, I served in the judiciary of my state at both the trial and appellate levels and have a demonstrated record of fairness and (impartiality),” the release reads. “As a judge, I presided over thousands of cases, civil and criminal, where counsel made small contributions to my judicial campaign. I did not allow the contribution to affect my impartiality and will not allow the contribution of the National Leadership PAC to affect me in any way.”
He notes the bipartisan ethics committee’s work “is confidential and members are prohibited from discussing its deliberations,” and that the job of its congressmen-members is to work through a peer-review process.
“It would be impossible to have an Ethics Committee composed of members who were completely unassociated with the target of an investigation,” the release reads.
Asked for her reaction, Alice Mills Sadler, chairwoman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, said she hadn’t heard about Woolard’s news conferences.
“I’m completely unaware of that contribution,” Sadler said. “That amazes me.”
She added, “I can’t imagine Butterfield doing anything as unethical as accepting a bribe. That doesn’t strike me as part of his nature. … I would think that it was just a legal contribution in support of Butterfield.”