Recent publicity about a political action committee whose poll workers
used deceptive and illegal tactics to promote a slate of candidates
has caused the state Board of Elections to give renewed
attention to a complaint against the campaign of Susan Frye, who
was elected Forsyth County clerk of superior court in 2010.
The complaint filed by Richard Bethune, treasurer for Republican candidate
Jeff Polston, languished for months after being forwarded to the state Board of
Elections last July. Frye replaced fellow Democrat Nick Gordon after defeating
him in the primary two years ago.
Bethune has accused Frye’s campaign, including treasurer Chris Church, of
filing a “false and frivolous campaign report” for the period of July 1 through
Oct. 25, 2010.
Bethune wrote that the report showed “$0 in receipts and $0 in expenditures,”
adding that “Mr. Church and Ms. Frye obviously knew this report was
false as the 3rd quarter was when most of their money was raised and spent
going into the November 2010 election.”
After the election, Church filed an amended report indicating that the campaign
had, in fact, raised $15,487 and spent $14,022.
As treasurer, Church signed a standard certification statement on Oct. 25,
2010 stating “that this report is complete, true and correct and that I have been
trained by the NC State Board of Elections.”
NC General Statute § 163-278.32 holds that any statement filed under the
requirements of state law regulating contributions and expenditures in political
campaigns “shall be signed and certified as true and correct” and that “a certification
under this article shall be treated as under oath, and any person making a
certification under this article knowing the information to be untrue is guilty of
a Class I felony.”
Sheryll Harris, a campaign finance compliance specialist, confirmed last
week that the state Board of Elections has received Bethune’s complaint.
“We do have a complaint, and, yes, we are investigating,” she said. “We do
not have an anticipated completion date.”
Harris said she could not comment on whether the matter would be referred
to the five-member state board for action, or to the Forsyth County District Attorney
or NC Attorney General for prosecution.
Church and Frye did not return calls for this story.
A Winston-Salem campaign consultant, Church’s other past clients include
former congressional candidate Dr. Bruce Peller, Forsyth County Commissioner
Everette Witherspoon and Jerry Jordan, a former member of the county
board of elections who ran unsuccessfully for district court judge this year.
Church is closely linked with the Forsyth Leadership Political Action Committee.
The committee produced a yellow flier during the primary endorsing
Peller for the 5th Congressional District, Witherspoon for a House seat, Jordan
for judge, Earline Parmon for NC Senate, Walter Dalton for governor and
Linda Coleman for lieutenant governor.
Several people reported overhearing poll workers tell voters that those endorsed
on the flier were “the Democratic candidates,” implying that those who
were not endorsed were not Democrats. The statement was false considering
that Jordan, who was a candidate in a nonpartisan judicial race, is a registered
Republican. On the second day of early voting, election staff caught poll workers
talking to voters inside a buffer zone where campaigning is prohibited and
asked them to leave.
Church has said he was only working as a consultant for the committee, but
a campaign finance report indicates that his consulting company spent $1,628
on poll-worker salaries and $104 to print fliers as part of the committee’s efforts
on behalf of favored candidates.
Peller fired Church after learning about the tactics employed by the committee.
“Because of Chris Church’s involvement, I don’t have any doubt in my
mind that this PAC is corrupt, and it’s up to individuals to do what they need to
do,” Peller said in April. “I’m glad I’m out of it because Chris Church has been
dishonest with me.”
Despite reported efforts by the committee to solicit contributions from at
least three candidates, only one came through. The Dalton campaign cut a
check for $2,000.
Bethune said the Journal’s coverage of Church’s involvement with the
Forsyth Leadership PAC got the attention of the state Board of Elections. He
said that Amy Strange, a campaign finance compliance specialist, told him in
a phone conversation in early May that “my complaint was being escalated
because of what’s going on right now.”
The investigation into whether the Frye campaign filed a false report is only
one instance in which candidates and political action committee associated
with an alliance of mostly Democratic candidates in Forsyth County have
appeared to flout campaign finance law. The other violations appear to have
flown below or fallen off the state Board of Elections’ radar.
During the recent primary Peller said Church ran his consulting firm, 5
Star Campaigns, out of his dental office. Peller said Jordan occasionally came
by the dental office to work with Church and that one Sunday he arrived to
find Witherspoon meeting with Church. Peller also said Church took him by
Parmon’s campaign headquarters on West 4th Street and left him waiting while
he did some work on one of Parmon’s computers.
Parmon said in a prepared statement before the primary that her campaign
“has had no direct involvement with the operational side” of the Forsyth Leadership
PAC, and dismissed as “rumors” the notion that she was tied to the committee.
An earlier alliance during the previous election
cycle featured some of the same players
and a similar use of fliers to promote a slate
of candidates. Frye acknowledged in a 2011
interview that she had been part of a “coordinated
effort with Ms. Parmon” during the 2010
election. Pamela Johnson, a former elections
employee, told YES! Weekly that Parmon’s
campaign manager asked her to perform some
discrete research for Frye while she was working
on the Parmon campaign. Johnson said she saw
Witherspoon and another candidate, Jimmie
Lee Bonham, at Parmon’s campaign office at
the Mutual Life Insurance Building during the
campaign. The Parmon, Frye, Witherspoon and
Bonham campaigns all made expenditures to a
little known, fly-by-night outfit with offices in
the same building that was variously known as
CDC, CMC and CMC Marketing that provided
The Forsyth Leadership PAC is not the first
committee with a dubious purpose to promote a
slate of candidates in Winston-Salem.
The Winston-Salem Black Political Action
Committee was organized during the 2008 presidential
primary. Its treasurer was Tanya Wiley,
who is also a campaign consultant. Witherspoon
was listed as custodian of books information in
the committee’s statement of organization.
A consultant and publicist associated with
the firm WCP Communications, Wiley played
a prominent role in Parmon’s recent primary.
Wiley publicized and handled media inquiries
for a press conference in which Parmon
launched her candidacy in tandem with an announcement
by NC Rep. Larry Womble that he
would not seek the Senate seat and would retire
from public office. Witherspoon also announced
his candidacy at the event, and Wiley produced
press releases for both campaigns.
The Winston-Salem Black PAC drew sizeable
contributions from prominent figures: $2,500
from then-gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue,
$1,000 from Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines
and $500 from Ernest H. Pitt, chairman and
CEO of the Winston-Salem Chronicle.
The committee’s organizational report was
filed two days after the primary, and listed
$4,008 in cash on hand. The committee failed to
file second-quarter or third-quarter plus reports,
prompting an official notice of noncompliance to
Wiley from Kim Westbrook Strach, deputy director
for campaign reporting at the state Board
of Elections, on Nov. 12, 2008.
Instead of catching up on its second-quarter
and third-quarter plus reports the committee
skipped to the 2008 year-end semi-annual report,
which the board of elections received in February
2009. The report showed a balance of $164.
Cash on hand at the end of the previous report
should equal cash on hand at the beginning of
the subsequent report. That $4,008 dwindled to
$164 indicates that $3,844 remains missing or
unaccounted. No mention of the discrepancy can
be found in correspondence from the board of
elections that is posted on the agency’s website.
But Strach did attempt to get the committee to
file the missing reports, first warning of termination
of active status so the committee could not
receive or make contributions, then imposing a
Witherspoon and Wiley could not be reached
for comment for this story.
Five hundred dollars is the maximum fine for
reports affecting non-statewide elections. It is
unclear how the board of elections determined
that that the committee’s efforts affected only local
elections; a $2,500 contribution from Perdue
raises questions about whether the committee
promoted her candidacy for governor — a
In addition to the almost $4,000 that disappeared,
the committee raised and spent more
than $9,000, mainly in October and November
of 2008. A maximum contribution of $4,000
came from the NC Democratic Party. Parmon
and Womble respectively contributed $2,900
and $1,355. Charles T. Hagan, the late father-inlaw
of US Senate candidate Kay Hagan, gave
$1,000. A total of $3,254 was paid out to Wiley
or WCP Communications for various services,
including an e-mail campaign and marketing.
Witherspoon collected a “volunteer stipend” of
Still unable to obtain the missing reports from
Wiley, Strach warned in a July 2009 letter that
state law provided that the state Board of Elections
“shall request the Attorney General to institute
a civil action to recover the amount of the
assessment” if the fine wasn’t paid in 30 days.
Strach said in a voice-mail message that her
staff is reviewing the committee’s reports and
will report the results as they come in.
Charles Winfree, a Republican member of
the state Board of Elections from Greensboro,
acknowledged that staff lacks the ability to audit
every report by every committee.
“When there are public questions about a
committee, then that moves that committee up
on the priority list,” he said.
Listing Witherspoon as the treasurer, the committee
filed reports for the first and second quarters
of 2010, which covered that year’s primary
election. The committee reported zero receipts,
zero expenditures and a zero balance. And yet a
flier was handed out at polling places endorsing
Parmon, Frye, Witherspoon and Bonham, and
inscribed with the notation “Paid for by Winston-
Salem Black Political Committee” — an entity
that purportedly had no funds.