Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Former Gov. Jetsetter"

That's how Sam Hieb, Piedmont Triad blogger for JLF, describes the travel habits of Gov. Mike Easley during his two terms in office. And that's just part of what the News and Observer unveils in a two-part series on the former governor's outside-the-lines activities.

I'm proud to say that Carolina Journal did a lot of the early (and follow-up) reporting on Easley's taxpayer-funded private travel and his shady real-estate deals. You can read it all, dating from March 2006, here.

Back at the N&O, here's how reporter Andrew Curliss' series opens:

While he was governor, Mike Easley turned a small group of influential North Carolina businessmen into his own private air service, an arrangement Easley kept secret.

Starting in 2003, Easley took at least 25 flights on private jets, some in apparent violation of campaign laws and ethics rules, documents and interviews show. Some flights were free. The value of others exceeded campaign contribution limits.

Taxpayers also coughed up $72,000 to rent lodgings for his state-trooper security detail when Easley frequently visited his second home near the coast.

Turns out that Easley had plenty of money in his campaign coffers to pay for the travel and the troopers, but hey, who could blame him for getting the services for "free"?

Part two highlights the Easley family's dealings with longtime friend McQueen Campbell, who wormed his way into the administration of NC State University and seems to have rewarded Easley with a sweetheart deal on -- yes -- beachfront property at the Cannonsgate development. Along with a phony-baloney job at NCSU for First Lady Mary Easley that'll pay her $850,000 over the next five years.

The air travel and free cars the Easley family received from a couple of auto dealers through his second term, if not earlier (and that they continued to get after Mike Easley left office), and particularly the Cannonsgate transaction have gotten the attention of the U.S. attorney, as this CJ story reported.

Because Easley's no longer governor, this mess probably won't attract the outside attention that the Blago pay-to-play scandal received. But stay tuned. The feds may lay the hammer down on some major political players in the Tar Heel State.

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