Mark Robinson's 2020 campaign finance reports are still under review, 3 years later
North Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is leading the race for the Republican nomination for governor, but a government watchdog says the public still needs answers to lingering questions about his 2020 campaign.
Bob Hall is the former executive director of the progressive-leaning Democracy North Carolina. Three years ago, he filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections over Robinson’s 2020 campaign finance reports after he was contacted by The Raleigh News & Observer.
"A reporter contacted me about some curious expenses, and I began to look at all of his reports, and there were just many, many, many problems," Hall said.
Among them, he found two unexplained cash withdrawals, missing donor information, and donors giving more than they were allowed. There were also donations from what looked like out-of-state groups not registered to make donations in North Carolina and two possible donations from businesses, which are illegal.
Hall also found what seemed to him like questionable spending, like using money for medical bills and spending $1,000 on campaign clothing — a lot of it at a sporting goods store.
Nick de la Canal: When you look at a report like this as a government watchdog, what do you think?
Hall: Well I think — I think it’s wrong and the public are being cheated of good information, important information, and I think there’s misuse of money.
De la Canal: After he was elected lieutenant governor, Robinson said these were “clerical errors” and he was getting a new staff. He also offered some explanations, saying that the thousands he spent on clothing were for campaign T-shirts. This was Robinson’s first run for public office. Is it possible these omissions and possible violations weren’t done out of deceit, but rather inexperience?
Hall: I think there is inexperience reflected in some of the way the reports are done. Of course, he had a treasurer filling these out, and treasurers are required to be trained by the state board. You do see candidates filing amendments to correct the problems, errors. But there were no amendments filed even after I submitted this complaint. They didn’t correct these so-called clerical errors.
De la Canal: So you filed this complaint in 2021 asking the State Board of Elections to look into this. It’s been three years. What was the last update you received, and have you been given any timeline for when the investigation will wrap up?
Hall: All I know is that the investigation is continuing. I don’t know what stage it’s at. I’m not told what they have found.
De la Canal: And this investigation is taking place under this 2018 law passed by Republicans that keeps campaign finance investigations confidential, so it’s harder now for the public and us as journalists to know what’s going on in these investigations. Meanwhile, the primaries are underway. What do you think needs to happen? Do we just sit and wait?
Hall: Well, I do think that reporters need to be asking the candidate -- asking Mark Robinson to explain, and I think the state board hopefully is getting the bank records. In many of these cases, they could be explained by the documents.
De la Canal: So you’re saying if we can’t get information from the state, Robinson should offer the public a fuller explanation himself.
Hall: Yes, absolutely. This guy wants to be the governor of the state of North Carolina. He definitely can give great speeches and he has a bully pulpit -- he knows how to use a bully pulpit. But does he have the competency to administer and run programs, oversee big agencies? You know if he can’t even explain a simple campaign account, that raises a lot of questions to me about his competency, and I think it is something that he has to address.
In a statement, the Robinson campaign said it sent additional documents and answers to the state well over a year ago, and that the State Board of Elections told the campaign it is short-staffed though it continues to work through the investigation.
A spokesperson for the State Board of Elections declined to provide details or a timeline, citing the 2018 law that keeps campaign finance investigations closed to the public.