Who gave Michael Decker $50K to switch parties?

Last week, I blogged about former Phoenix Suns superstar Charles Barkley’s declaration that he was considering a 2010 run for governor of Alabama.

What I focused on in particular about Mr. Barkley’s announcement was the fact that he said that if he were to run, he would do so as a Democrat as he was ‘no longer’ a Republican – because Republicans, he said, have “lost their minds.” I used his statement as a springboard to a discussion about the real reasons people switch parties. I wrote, in part:

I don’t know what issues he has with the Republican party that were so bad he decided to part company with them, but I do believe that there is more at play here than just him being disgusted with Republicans. As someone who herself switched parties back in the early-to-mid 90s, I can speak with experience when I say that when you switch from Democrat to Republican or vice versa, you don’t do it because you’ve had it with your party: you do it because your beliefs have changed radically, or just enough to make you feel like you have more in common philosophy-wise with one party over the other.

Today, however, I realized that I overlooked another reason why people sometimes switch parties. This reason, as you’ll soon see, is a far less honorable one than simply switching Michael Decker - photo courtesy of News 14 Carolina parties because your beliefs have changed. Sometimes, just sometimes, people – in particular – politicians, change parties not because they start viewing issues differently, but because of the perks associated with such a switch. Such is the case with one Michael Decker, former NC state representative and former Republican – who switched parties after accepting a $50,000 bribe to do so in exchange for supporting a specific candidate for Speaker of the House. Via WRAL:

RALEIGH, N.C. — A former ally of House Speaker Jim Black pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to accept $50,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for switching his party affiliation and supporting a specific candidate for speaker in 2003.

Former Rep. Michael Decker pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to extort money from people who weren’t identified by prosecutors in court. In exchange, Decker supported a particular candidate for speaker, prosecutors said.

Decker, of Forsyth County, switched from Republican to Democrat before the 2003 session. The only Democratic candidate for speaker was Black, and Decker’s support of Black helped the Mecklenburg County Democrat remain co-speaker in a narrowly divided House chamber.

Black, however, wasn’t mentioned by prosecutors during the hearing or in a document that detailed the charges.

Black’s name might not have been mentioned by prosecutors during the hearing, but speculation is swirling that Black is the unnamed man in question (the one who was not identified in court papers). Don Carrington, executive editor at the Carolina Journal, is all over this story:

Hints as to the possible identity of the unnamed legislator came in comments by Decker’s lawyer outside the federal courthouse on Tuesday and in a recent news story in the Winston-Salem Journal. Attorney David B. Freedman acknowledged to reporters that the deal had been made in Salisbury, and the March 2006 news story described a 2002 meeting between Decker and Black at a Salisbury pancake house.


According to court documents, after the results of the November 2002 general election left the House with 61 Republican members and 59 Democratic members, Decker, a Republican, solicited and agreed to accept $50,000 and other gifts in return for switching parties and supporting a particular candidate for speaker of the House.

In January 2003 Decker publicly announced he had changed his registration to Democrat. Later in 2003, Decker accepted an envelope containing about $38,000 in checks and $12,000 in cash in return for switching parties and supporting a particular candidate. While the candidate was not specifically mentioned in court documents, that candidate was Jim Black.


Decker declined to speak with reporters as he left the court building and proceeded to his car alone. Freedman did linger for a few moments to answer questions. He would not say with whom Decker met to set up the deal, but acknowledged Decker initiated the idea. He also acknowledged that the deal was put together at a meeting in Salisbury.

A March 26, 2006 Winston-Salem Journal story reported that in late 2002 Black drove from his hometown of Matthews to the IHOP restaurant in Salisbury and met with Decker to solicit Decker’s vote for speaker.

While it might almost 100 degrees in some parts of NC right now, it’s even hotter for House Speaker Jim Black, and his attorney issued a statement late Tuesday in response to speculation that he was Mr. $50K (again via WRAL):

“Many witnesses are able to testify that Decker decided all on his own to vote for Dr. Black as Speaker in 2003 because Decker’s party insulted him and Decker despised his party’s leaders.”

Bell continued, saying:

“Speaker Black neither gave, promised nor offered Decker anything for his vote. After Decker told the Speaker he intended to vote for him, the Speaker offered to help Decker raise funds for what was sure to be a tough re-election campaign, just as he would have done for any member of his caucus. If Decker is telling the government anything other than this, he is not telling the truth.”

L.O.L. Mr. Bell, it would appear, is a master of lawyer double-speak.

Here’s a rundown on Black’s other troubles:

Black’s attorneys were in Wake County court Tuesday attempting to reverse a state Board of Elections ruling that found Black’s campaign had accepted $6,800 in unlawful contributions from his fellow optometrists. The judge hearing the arguments did not issue an immediate ruling in the case.

For the past several years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh has focused on investigating public corruption. Many of the people who have testified before a federal grand jury in the past several months have ties to Black, who has said repeatedly he is not a target of a federal investigation.

Last fall, subpoenas sent to Black’s office sought information about contact he and his staff may have had with 28 different groups, many connected to the video poker industry and the newly created state lottery, along with Decker and one of Black’s former political aides.

In May, federal prosecutors indicted a former North Carolina lottery commissioner, accusing him of failing to disclose as required payments he received for work performed for a lottery contractor. Black had appointed Kevin Geddings to the commission, but said he knew nothing about his ties to the contractor.

Shady goings-on in our state government are so bad that even the very liberal NYTimes virtual reprint Charlotte Distorter – er, Observer, has written a harshly criticial editorial about them:

The speaker has maintained he did nothing illegal. He has not been charged. Even so, as we said in March, we believe Speaker Black wrongly manipulated the system to stay in power, punishing enemies and rewarding allies. We urge Jim Black to step down as speaker and let the House rebuild its credibility and leadership.

Mr. Decker voluntarily pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge involving extortion, mail fraud and money laundering — a clear sign he is cooperating in the investigation. He said he “accepted an envelope containing about $38,000 in checks … and $12,000 in cash” plus a legislative job (later filled by his son) in return for switching parties. Prosecutors also said Mr. Decker agreed to keep his campaign account open after losing the 2004 election “in case there was a need to run some money through it.” In early 2005 he received $4,000 “and converted it to his use.”

The picture federal authorities drew was clear: Democrats in the House paid Mr. Decker to change parties and keep Democrats in power, and after Mr. Decker lost his seat two years later they still tried to help him. That conspiracy might still remain a secret had not federal and state authorities launched investigations about possible links between campaign contributions and legislative action in the House.

Decker’s going to be singing soon (if he’s not already). It’s looking like the summer is about to get a lot hotter for House Speaker Jim Black.

Read more via Jeff Taylor at the Meck Deck.

Update: PCD in the comments section made me think of a good idea: If you want to discuss corrupt politicians from your own state in addition to the ones I’ve posted about in this post, please do! The more who know, the better.


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