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Spreading fact-less claims not clean campaigning

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By Holly Audette
Columnist

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Many claims were made by candidates during the recent election about their opponent that were either outright deceptions or intentional distortions of truth. This is unfortunately not new. But when a candidate so obviously engaged in it declares, after losing his race, his pride in running a “clean” campaign it is worthy of reflection and review.

During the campaign for state Senate District 1, there were a number of claims promoted by the Clark Twiddy campaign against his opponent who won the race, state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan. Perhaps the most egregious was the claim Steinburg stole from the taxpayers.

Weeks before the election, I wrote a column about legislators’ compensation in response to the Twiddy campaign’s oft-repeated claim that Steinburg was “stealing” taxpayer funds by receiving compensation for days he “didn’t work.” A blog making this claim was widely circulated by the campaign. The evidence was Steinburg’s per diem pay for a seven-day work week.

I requested public records for all the legislators representing our region. I also requested the same records for Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, so I could make a comparison beyond the region. The claim that Steinburg stole taxpayer money is still being repeated by Twiddy supporters today as I write this column.

Legislators are paid a salary of just over $13,000 annually. They also are paid $559 per month for expenses to maintain their offices. They are compensated for the mileage they travel between their home in the district and the Legislature in Raleigh. They also receive per diem stipends, either daily when they’re not in session for approved legislative committee meetings, or weekly when they are in session.

The session per diem stipends for each legislator are based on a seven-day schedule for the days they’re in Raleigh as well as the days they’re in the district for legislative work. This per diem stipend is paid to them automatically every week. I asked for a year’s worth of compensation records for Steinburg and Reps. Bevery Boswell, R-Dare, and Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, and for state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Majority Leader Brown. Each and every member listed received the same number of weekly per diem stipends of $728 when the legislature was in session from January 2017 to January 2018. Each member had a varied number of days outside the session when they had an approved daily per diem stipend based on the schedule of the committees they serve on. Each also received the monthly expense amount the same number of times.

A Twiddy supporter filed an ethics complaint against Steinburg’s legislative assistant just before election day, alleging she violated state law by campaigning on state time. The same blog mentioned above wrote about this, too. Again, this story was widely circulated by the Twiddy campaign as another example of Steinburg’s “theft” from the taxpayers. The allegation was that he used a state employe paid by the taxpayers to do his campaign work.

This legislative assistant disclosed on ethics forms, as she was required to do, a second job working for the Steinburg political campaign. Steinburg disclosed her pay on his campaign finance filings, and she did all that she was required to do, taking her earned vacation time from the legislature to work on the campaign. Just as it is assumed Jordan Hennessey, legislative assistant to Cook, did when he was at the Dare County polls on election day wearing his official legislative identification.

Notice these stories were all advanced based on assumptions rather than facts. They were all advanced with the intention of portraying a political opponent in a negative light. The facts were irrelevant as long as negative innuendo would bring political points and mileage. Nothing clean about that. We have a serious election coming up and the effects are significant to our region. I hope innuendo just lost in the primary and a serious debate of facts and ideas follows.

Holly Audette is small-business owner active in political and civic causes.

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