A watchdog group says the North Carolina spokesman’s campaign paid his law firm nearly $70,000 in rent

A government watchdog group has called on the North Carolina State Board of Elections to clarify campaign finance rules in North Carolina and crack down on candidates who make money renting office space for their own campaign.

In a letter to the board Monday, the Campaign for Accountability cited about $70,000 in payments made by state House Speaker Tim Moore’s political campaign on a building he owns, which also houses his law office in Kings Mountain. The left-leaning group used public campaign finance records to arrive at its total.

Moore, the Cleveland Republican, says he had no choice: State law requires his campaign to pay his rent and his legal secretary’s time when she is absorbed in campaign duties. Because his law firm is organized as an S corporation — a tax classification for private companies — anything else would constitute an illegal campaign donation, as corporations are not allowed to donate money or services to candidate committees.

“This is just a left-wing group trying to make political attacks on me because I’m a Republican,” Moore said. “All I can do is work under the laws we have.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Accountability Campaign has not asked the state House to conduct an investigation, nor has it suggested that Moore is violating state law. State law prohibits a candidate’s campaign from paying rent on residential property owned by the candidate, but there is no corresponding rule for commercial properties.

The accountability campaign says there should be.

“Using contributions for the personal financial benefit of candidates or government officials appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law,” the group said in its letter. “It also seems unlikely that by enacting a rule specifically prohibiting candidates and officials from using contributions to pay rent or mortgages on residential properties, the Board intended to create an exception allowing candidates to use contributions to pay rent or mortgages on commercial properties they own.” Or control.”

The impeachment campaign has recorded $69,300 in payments to the office since 2010, though Moore’s campaign paused payments for a few years. The monthly amount has varied, but is now $1,500, paid to “attorney Tim Moore,” according to Moore’s most recent campaign finance reports.

Most of these payments appear in campaign finance records only as rent, others as rent and staff time. Moore said that years ago, his campaign tracked the time his law firm employees spent on political cases, but abandoned that because it was too complicated and settled on a flat fee of $1,500. Moore noted that his campaign has been audited by the state Board of Elections in recent years and the board has never complained about rent payments, which are clearly identified in campaign finance records.

State Board of Elections spokesman Pat Gannon did not immediately comment on the group’s letter Monday. He has previously maintained that although state law prohibits campaign funds from being paid for residential property owned by a candidate, it does not apply to commercial property. Gannon also stressed that corporations cannot donate and that “this includes a ban on in-kind contributions such as the use of office space.”

“If a company owns the office space used by the campaign, the committee must pay fair market value for the space used,” he previously said.

In its letter, the impeachment campaign questioned whether Moore was paying above fair market value to use only a portion of the 1,274 square feet of office space.

After Moore told WRAL News that much of the monthly payments cover staff time, Michelle Coopersmith, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, said Moore should state that more clearly in campaign records, and that his campaign should take into account the hours his legal staff spends Campaign work.

“It appears at a minimum that Moore was involved in inaccurate financial accounting,” she added.

Coopersmith’s group has not requested an investigation by the state Board of Elections. Instead, it wants the council to issue an advisory opinion. If the board issues one, it will be public record, but those opinions are typically requested by a campaign that needs guidance on its spending, not by a third party, so it’s not guaranteed the board will issue one.

Moore is not the only elected official whose campaign has paid for office space owned by a candidate or entity in which it appears to have an interest. State Senate Leader Phil Berger’s campaign used to pay for his law firm in Eden, writing checks to The Berger Law Group. She now pays $2,000 a month to Woodall Properties, in which Berger has no financial interest, according to a Berger spokesman.

(tags for translation) n capitol

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