Published: May 01, 2012 05:22 PM
Modified: May 01, 2012 05:23 PM
DURHAM - Durham County’s first Super PAC already faces scrutiny after the local Board of Elections received complaints of inappropriate coordination with candidates.
Director of Elections Michael Perry forwarded to the State Board of Elections about eight complaints claiming county commissioner candidates Rickey Padgett and incumbents Joe Bowser and Brenda Howerton illegally coordinated with the The Durham Partnership for Progress.
The Super PAC, backed by Southern Durham Development, has mailed out glossy fliers endorsing Bowser, Howerton and Padgett, along with incumbent commissioners Chairman Michael Page.
Bowser, Howerton, Padgett and Southern Durham Development President Alex Mitchell all said they did not coordinate or even communicate with each other.
All of the candidates support Southern Durham Development’s controversial 751 South, a 1,300-home, mixed-use project proposed for southwest Durham County near Jordan Lake.
Technically called an “Independent Expenditure Political Committee,” Super PACs are prohibited from, directly or indirectly, making contributions to candidate committees or other groups that make contributions to candidates, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections.
The complaints center on witness statements indicating Padgett and representatives of Bowser and Howerton distributed the Super PAC’s fliers at early voting sites over the weekend.
Perry indicated in an email that he spoke with a Howerton supporter on Saturday who was passing out the Super PAC literature.
“My opinion was that if he was here specifically to support Brenda with literature from the PAC there did appear to be some degree of coordination,” Perry wrote in an email.
Howerton said the person Perry spoke with may have supported her but was not officially working for her or her campaign.
The complaints also allege Bowser and Howerton each provided transportation for a Super PAC poll worker. Bowser said the worker that witnesses identified as a Super PAC worker, actually worked for him on behalf of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
Mitchell said the allegations are “totally false” but expected from political opponents. The Super PAC has gone beyond what the law requires by not communicating with the candidates it supports, including not informing them of the fliers.
Bowser pointed out that many of the complaints came from volunteers working the early voting sites for the Durham People’s Alliance, which opposes 751 South.
“No doubt about it, (the complaints) are politically motivated,” Bowser said.
Don Moffitt, who reported an alleged violation that he observed while volunteering for the People’s Alliance, said individuals did not report violations until they saw a trend.
“It was just a group of people who were working the polls, making observations that it looks like something is going on here and it shouldn’t be going on,” Moffitt said.
So far, Southern Durham Development has spent $54,000 to promote the four county commissioner candidates through the Super PAC, but none of the money had gone to poll workers, Southern Durham representatives said.
According to a PAC report filed Monday, the company donated $50,000 for services from Nexus Strategies, a Raleigh political consulting firm. Other expenses included marketing and Web site expenses. Staff writer Jim Wise contributed to this article.