Thursday, October 12, 2006

Campaign Finance Follow-ups

A few other items of note from the campaign finance reports:

1.) Nifong has received public defenses from figures who have declined to identify themselves as donors.

For instance, here’s John Bourlon dismissing allegations that Nifong moved forward with a weak case: “I’m convinced he has something,” Bourlon told the Associated Press. Since North Carolina has an Open Discovery law, Bourlon seemed to imply that Nifong had held something back, thereby flouting the law.

The AP article described Bourlon in the following way: “The criminal defense lawyer has faced off against Nifong hundreds of times over the past three decades.” Bourlon apparently “forgot” to mention his vested interest in the outcome of the race: on February 19, he donated $1000 to the Nifong re-election effort—the second largest individual contribution that Nifong received for the primary campaign.

[The AP added that Bourlon has “seen the prosecutor drop a weak case the day before trial.” That comment begs the question of why Nifong would wait so long to drop a weak case. And does he have a pattern of filing weak cases?]

A similar situation applies to Durham mayor Bill Bell. On March 31, Bell sent a campaign contribution to Nifong (see p. 5 of this campaign finance report). Bell donated only $100—but the timing of the donation, coming four days after Nifong began his publicity barrage against the lacrosse players, implied a statement of confidence in Nifong’s actions.

To my knowledge, Bell never mentioned this contribution in the many interviews he did at the height of media scrutiny of the case. This is not to question Bell’s decision: the mayor, of course, is entitled to support anyone he wants. But I suspect that many people (including me) would have interpreted his remarks differently if armed with the knowledge that Bell had given money to Nifong four days after the D.A. first went public.

2.) The claim that Nifong enjoys passionate grassroots support is chimerical.

Nifong’s defenders have portrayed him as a man with strong grassroots support besieged by a handful of outsiders. (The nearly 10,000 county voters who signed Lewis Cheek petitions are conveniently forgotten in this scenario.) According to a self-pitying statement on Nifong’s website, “We hear from people all over Durham who are ready to put the divisive antics of a few misguided folks behind them.”

A longtime community activist, it would seem, would have little difficulty assembling a flourishing fundraising base from the many people whose lives he touched over the years. Instead, of course, Nifong had to fall back upon soliciting funds from the lawyers who did business with the Durham D.A.’s office. This group formed 83.6 percent of his itemized contributions between January 1 and February 19.

Perhaps Nifong’s paltry record of community service explains his difficulties in raising funds other than from those who needed to solicit his good will. As Liestoppers noted, Nifong claimed the following items as community service:

  • Member of Durham County Bar Association;
  • Durham Crime Cabinet;
  • Member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church;
  • Animal Control Board;
  • Member of Riverside Baseball Parents;
  • former board member, manager, and umpire at North Durham Little League.

Items (1) and (2), of course, aren’t “community service” at all, but are professional responsibilities. As to item (3), I’m not sure that most people consider attending church “community service.”

Item (4)? We learned the depth of Nifong's commitment to the Animal Control Board after he sent an e-mail saying he “was truly dismayed at the number of my fellow board members who signed the Lewis Cheek [petition].” He threatened to quit the board.

So, the sum total Nifong’s “community service”—this from a 27-year veteran of the D.A.’s office—amounts to coaching and umpiring in his son’s little league. No wonder he had trouble raising funds from outside the legal profession.

3.) The lacrosse case provided no financial benefit to Freda Black.

In the final month before the May 2 primary, Black raised just under $11,000. That total was consistent with her fundraising pace over the previous four months. She showed only one new donor from outside Durham—Stephen Cearoin of Wilkesboro, who gave $1500. I have detected no relationship between Cearoin and anyone involved in the lacrosse case, though it’s possible he was outraged by Nifong’s behavior.

A commenter yesterday suggested that Black was flooded with contributions from "Iron Duke" activists after the lacrosse case emerged. Yet outside of Cearoin, the challenger attracted only six new donors after Nifong went public about the case, all from Durham or Hillsborough; the six donated a grand total of $2199.89. That figure hardly suggests a Duke alumni conspiracy to oust Nifong. None of Black’s April donations came from out of state.

Both Black and Nifong, it seems, spent their money on some peculiar items. Black devoted $5000 to a campaign closing party. Nifong gave his wife, Cy Gurney, $1347.18 for “signs.”

4.) Nifong generously subsidized his friends at the Herald-Sun.

The district attorney flooded the Herald-Sun with advertising, spending more than $7,500 on various Herald-Sun ads. Freda Black, though better funded, spent scarcely half as much on the Durham newspaper.

The relationship, it appears, has been mutually beneficial. The ad-strapped Herald-Sun received a disproportionate boost in advertising revenue. Editor Bob Ashley, meanwhile, has overseen a pro-Nifong news/editorial barrage characterized by excluding all mention of anti-Nifong items; blatantly distorting the remarks of Lewis Cheek; publishing an article on the DNA evidence that bordered on journalistic fraud; and claiming that Nifong was “unopposed,” despite Cheek’s presence on the ballot.

It’s worth noting, however, that yesterday’s article by John Stevenson contained a (subsequently verified) scoop—that the three accused players, plus Kim Roberts, would be appearing this Sunday on 60 Minutes. The article was also scrupulously fair, quoting from the police statements of Roberts and the accuser’s “driver,” Jarriel Johnson.

I hope this Stevenson piece signals a return to more balanced journalism, at least on the news pages of the paper. Early in the case, Stevenson produced several good articles, suggesting that he is capable of solid journalism when not straightjacketed by Ashley.

At the very least, yesterday’s story must have produced chills in the offices of Nifong and the Durham Police. Stevenson says it’s unclear whether Johnson cooperated with 60 Minutes. An even more intriguing question: did any police officers involved in the investigation secretly cooperate with the news program?


Anonymous said...

I noticed that only two of the remaining people who endorse Nifong on his website contributed any money. The doctor friend gave $500 in the first quarter and $150 in the second quarter. Looks to me like Nifong went to him more than once for money. Williams gave $500. That's it. I'd pay $500 to have my face and name removed from his site. His brother coughed up $1,500, but his sister who wrote a letter to one of the newspapers in his defense didn't give anything.

I'm not sure about the tax law on this, but all of the attorneys are listed as "individual contributions." That means these guys forked it over; not their firms unless they're playing with funny money from the petty cash. One way to identify someone buying influence/access is to determine if they make similar or any contributions to other politicos.

I noticed a $100 disbursement for "volunteer hardship." While I understand it must truly be a hardship to volunteer for a candidate like Nifong, I didn't know you could get paid for it. Not a big deal; just funny to me.

The other thing that was wierd are the strange amounts of $$ Nifong loaned his campaign. For example, $22,388.88. If I was going to loan MY campaign some money, I'd just write a check for $22,400 or maybe even $23,000. This leads me to believe that the campaign ran up a few bills that needed to be paid fast and Nifong had to come up with the money after the fact and did not want to give his own campaign one more penny than they needed. Further support for your premise that his cmapaign was pretty desparate for money.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Nifong has an exit strategy?

Anonymous said...

Watch 60 Minutes-there are two bombshells that will sink this case fast.

Anonymous said...

Would you like to elaborate on just whose case will sink? The accused or Nifong's? And, what's the point of anonymously stating something that you expect us to believe without any explanation? How do you know? So very juvenile.

Anonymous said...

anynomous'll know soon enough whose case will be sunk...calm down and just watch on Sunday...and no one says you have to believe, anyway...

Anonymous said...


For your enjoyment please read the tease on the 60 Minutes site regarding the Ed Bradley interview on the Duke Hoax.

Todd Glosson
Duke - Class of 1984

Anonymous said...

Anyone that is disgusted with Nifong should contribute to his campaign for re-election. I want to see the guy publicly tarred and feathered by defnese council and the media for such an abisimal handling of this case. Letting him slink off after election and leaving this pile of poo for the next DA is too easy. He deserves to have every moment of every day for the rest of his career scrutinized under a microscope.