GOP Rival Says Newby Violated Law

October 20, 2004

A Republican candidate for the state Supreme Court might have violated federal election law, one of his opponents charges.

Paul Newby, a federal prosecutor in Raleigh, said he apparently is the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which polices the political activity of federal workers.

Newby said he thinks the agency's routine investigation will clear him of any wrongdoing. He blamed a political opponent, fellow Republican Rachel Hunter, for filing the complaint, which he called a baseless campaign stunt.

Hunter, a Cary lawyer who works in Durham, announced the complaint at a news conference across Raleigh's Hillsborough Street from the state Republican Party headquarters, where she had been forbidden to speak. She said she didn't file it.

At issue is whether Newby violated a law against some federal employees' engaging in partisan political activity by accepting and publicizing the endorsement of the state Republican Party.

By law, some federal employees, including Newby, can't run in partisan elections. They are free to run in nonpartisan races.

Newby, Hunter and six other people, including two other Republicans, are running for a vacant Supreme Court seat. The election is officially nonpartisan, meaning that ballots won't list the candidates' party affiliations.

But Newby is campaigning as a Republican, the state party endorsed him alone and its Web site promotes his candidacy.

Hunter argues that Newby illegally made his campaign partisan by tying it to the party. She cites federal guidelines that say accepting a party's endorsement or support can make an otherwise nonpartisan election partisan.

"It's a serious violation of the law," Hunter said. "It's something for the voters to consider. If they want a lawbreaker on the court, it's up to them."

Newby and Republican Party leaders dismissed Hunter's assertion and the complaint as a trick by a disgruntled candidate.

"It's clearly a campaign ploy for her to get attention," Newby said. "If you look at the law and the regulations, her contention doesn't have any merit."

Newby said the race is officially nonpartisan, so he's free to run in it -- as he says federal authorities have told him in a letter.

And he said he's free to tout his Republican Party endorsement.

"An endorsement does not transform a nonpartisan election into a partisan one," Newby said.

A 2001 advisory letter to federal employees on the Office of Special Counsel's Web site says: "If a candidate solicits or advertises the endorsement of a partisan political party or uses a political party's resources to further his or her campaign, these actions may transform a nonpartisan election into a partisan one."

Newby said he has received phone calls from a staff member at the agency indicating that it is looking into a complaint someone lodged against him. He said he suspects it was Hunter or someone acting for her.

"It's not something I engineered," Hunter said. "It's something that was brought to my attention. It's not just a campaign stunt."

Bill Peaslee, the state Republican Party's chief of staff and political director, called the matter "a case of sour grapes."

"She didn't get the endorsement, so she's trying to throw mud," he said.

The law also forbids federal workers from personally soliciting or accepting campaign contributions for partisan political offices.

Newby has raised money for his campaign as a federal worker, which could become an issue if his election were deemed partisan.

Newby could not be reached late Tuesday to address the fund-raising issue.

The Office of Special Counsel investigates and prosecutes violations of the law, called the Hatch Act, with final disciplinary decisions made by another federal agency, the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Federal executive branch workers who violate the law can be warned, suspended or fired.

Staff writer Matthew Eisley can be reached at 829-4538 or

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