March 9, 1998
NEW EVIDENCE OF STEVE PIERCE BUNDLING INVOLVES $200,000 TO
HUNT, WICKER & KEY REPUBLICAN
Steve Pierce's troubles may be just beginning.
Last week, the SBI charged the rest-home tycoon and three family members with
conspiring to funnel up to $20,000 to state Senator Beverly Perdue. Sources close
to the case also suggest that the money came from Pierce's business, another violation
of state campaign finance law.
Now the watchdog group whose complaint triggered the SBI investigation says the
warrants address only "the tip of the iceberg" of Pierce's political
operation and possible misdeeds.
Democracy South of Chapel Hill today sent District Attorney Thomas J. Keith of
Forsyth County details of more than a dozen other examples of bundling involving
Steve Pierce and his family or associates. Keith, who is handling prosecution
of the case, says he's eager to learn more about Pierce's donations.
The examples total $205,850. Nearly $100,000 was delivered in bundles in mid-
or late 1996 -- well within the two-year statute of limitation for prosecuting
campaign finance violations. Recipients include:
-$83,000 to Jim Hunt's 1992 and 1996 campaigns;
-$55,000 to Lt. Governor Dennis Wicker's 1996 campaign;
-$11,000 to Republican Senator Betsy Cochran, co-chair of the NC Study
Commission on Aging and a senior member of other committees overseeing rest homes.
Democracy South also noted that if Pierce's company treated money used for political
donations as a business expense, then that would violate state and federal tax
Pierce served as president of the rest-home industry's trade group and lobbying
arm for 20 years until 1993. In October 1997, he sold his rest-home chain, the
largest in the state, but his son Guy heads the management firm that still operates
the homes. Guy Pierce is named in the arrest warrant along with two of Steve Pierce's
son-in-laws, William Hammonds and Brian O. Smith.
Rest homes rely heavily on patients receiving tax-subsidized aid, with fee schedules
and care standards set by the Governor's appointees and General Assembly. Critics
say the industry gets favorable treatment from regulators at the expense of taxpayers
and quality care.
Marlene Chasson of Friends of Residents in Long-Term Care, which has often opposed
the Pierce-initiated trade group, says citizens should demand to know if "these
contributions are responsible for the close relationship between the industry
and the state."
Pete MacDowell, Democracy South's executive director, says the Pierce case illustrates
the need for stronger ethics laws and enforcement, better disclosure to expose
violators, and an alternative method of financing campaigns.
"Ultimately, we need a new system that frees candidates from their dependency
on big donors and deprives those donors of receiving special favors. That's why
the leaders of Friends of Residents and dozens of other groups that represent
ordinary citizens support the voluntary public financing system in the Clean Election
Act," MacDowell said.