CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Feb. 13, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement sent a termination letter to Mecklenburg LGBTQ, otherwise known as MeckPAC or Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee. The notice states that a 2018 fourth quarter report has yet to be filed.
The report in question is typically due on Jan. 15 each year and covers the time between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 of the previous year.
The certified letter addressed to MeckPAC’s treasurer was returned undeliverable or unclaimed as of March 21. No additional documents have been filed according to a public record search. qnotes staff spoke with the organization’s treasurer and has purposefully omitted his name from this article out of safety concerns that the paper feels are warranted. “There’s a lot of confusion in the community because people think that MeckPAC is gone — that it doesn’t exist anymore. So, the termination status does not mean the organization is gone; it only means that we cannot receive funds or donations and we cannot spend any funds until everything gets filed.”
The treasurer went on to say that MeckPAC has had numerous conversations with the State Board of Elections and that they are working to get caught up. “We were just late on some filings,” he says. According to our interview, all records including the organization’s financials will be made public following a request from the state. “We know what mistakes were done and we’re just going to correct them.”
The active status change has stirred up ongoing rumors about mismanagement of funds and the organization’s leadership. Community members have called for an audit, release of financial documents, and even for MeckPAC chair Matt Comer’s resignation.
On July 20, MeckPAC put out a statement apologizing for the “issues regarding our filings” and saying they have heard the concerns and questions from the community. The statement cited difficulty in balancing personal, work, and familial obligations with those of the organization among the remaining board members. MeckPAC has had a difficult time maintaining board members over the past few years. Its board is currently made up of only Comer, the treasurer, and Kadean Maddix. Artie Hartsell, Ryan Morrice, and Emily Plauche’, resigned from the board in 2018 and Jamie Hildreth left the board in December 2017 to run for public office.
MeckPAC’s statement was quickly met with responses from local activist Janice Covington Allison and Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield, who has been repeatedly endorsed by the organization. Covington Allison, who was elected to serve as the Transgender Caucus statewide chair for the North Carolina Democratic Party, told qnotes that she has filed for an investigation into MeckPAC with the Board of Elections. Holly Newton and Lucille Puckett are the co-complainants.
qnotes acquired 2018 bank statements for MeckPAC through an anonymous source and found $183.94 expenditures between May 11 and Dec. 6, 2018 that were questionable. Those included at least 14 Uber trips, two Uber Eats charges and three additional restaurant charges. These expenses have not been reported on any documents filed with the N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
According to the Wells Fargo bank statements, there are two card accounts tied to spending of the organization. All the non-disclosed charges in question are tied to one of those accounts, which Comer has confessed to.
“I’ve called for his (Comer) resignation, not only from MeckPAC, but from all community activities,” says Covington Allison.
North Carolina’s Campaign Finance Manual has very few restrictions on how a PAC may spend its money, but all expenditures must be reported, along with the specific purpose of the expenditure. PACs can incur penalties for late-filed reports and “a report that does not affect a statewide election would be penalized at $50 per day not to exceed $500.” Since 2016, MeckPAC has been penalized a total of five times due to failure to report. All those penalties were appealed except for one that was paid in May 2019 for $50.
qnotes also found several inconsistencies with reporting from the time between May and December 2018. While MeckPAC failed to file a fourth quarter report for 2018, leading to the termination of its active status, they continued to file in 2019 including a mid-year semi-annual report on July 6 and paid the $50 penalty previously mentioned on May 2.
A report filed by MeckPAC on Oct. 29, 2018 lists dates of reporting as July 10 through Oct. 20 of that year. It includes one expenditure, but according to the bank statements that qnotes acquired, there were $118.73 in additional expenses during that time, including some of these questionable charges.
A report filed by MeckPAC on July 11, 2018 lists dates of reporting as April 22 through June 30 of that same year. The only expenditure, listed as a sponsorship to Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce, did not take place until six months later in December 2018, according to the filed report and confirmed by bank statements. Several expenses during that time were also never disclosed.
Former board member Hildreth first discovered the expenses in December 2018 when he noticed that he had not been removed from MeckPAC’s electronic bank account. He took the information to the remaining board members at that time, along with a request to be removed from the account. They did so in that same month, but never made Hildreth’s inquiry public.
IT WARRANTS A RESPONSE
“We are fully confident that these issues can be appropriately addressed and resolved,” reads the July 20 statement on MeckPAC’s Facebook page.
After qnotes emailed MeckPAC over the weekend, the organization posted another statement to its Facebook page. “In the reports filed this week you will discover that in 2018, there were some charges drafted from our account made by mistake,” says Comer in the statement. “Immediately upon discovery by the cardholder, myself, the other Board members were notified, the charges immediately reimbursed, and a CPA consulted to ensure they were accounted for appropriately.” Comer admits that reports acknowledging these transactions were not filed.
If board members knew, why did they do nothing about it for over a year? As shown above, MeckPAC reported one expenditure during December of 2018, but reported zero contributions. The reporting period dates also did not match the expenditure. A mid-year semi-annual report for the first half of 2019 also shows no contributions. If Comer reimbursed the funds, why fail to report?
According to the documents that qnotes has uncovered, there are a total of 22 charges that come into question.
A PATTERN EMERGES
Comer is well-known in the Charlotte community and has made a history of calling out lack of civic responsibility in the Queen City. He served as editor of qnotes during two periods between 2007 to 2015. “Matt, as an editor of this newspaper, was known for calling out people and organizations that seem to have lost their way; whether it was financial issues, not filing required documents or losing their 501(c)3 status,” says qnotes publisher Jim Yarbrough. “Now look at who is in the spotlight for the same type of concerns.”
Comer has been the chair of MeckPAC since 2018 and has volunteered or worked for over 14 organizations, according to his personal website. He currently works as Communications Director at Charlotte Pride, a position he has held since 2017. Before joining the staff there, Comer had previously served on the Pride board of directors for several years.
Richard Grimstad served on the Pride board with Comer. He told qnotes that during his time as treasurer he had to revoke Comer’s access to a debit card after several occurrences. “As an organization, there were credit and debit card usage policies that were implemented and in place that all board members, or anyone that had access to a card was presented with the policy to read and acknowledge the terms of usage for the card,” says Grimstad. “After repeated violations of those terms, Matt’s card privileges were revoked,” referring to Comer.
qnotes has not been able to confirm if Comer has spending responsibilities with Charlotte Pride in his current staff role. The organization held its annual festival and parade virtually on Aug. 1-2 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
qnotes has also discovered that Charlotte Pride let their charitable solicitations license expire on May 15, 2018 raising additional questions about its connection to Comer. A call to the Secretary of State’s office confirmed that the license has been expired for this duration, and any solicitation or fundraising done during this time would be unlawful. The Secretary of State’s office confirmed that Pride has recently filed for a renewal, but one has not been issued yet. Any charity that has a license to solicit contributions in North Carolina must file financial information on an annual basis. Grimstad pointed out that his name is still listed as the contact for the state, due to their lack of reporting since he left the board in 2017. He has made requests that it be updated.
Former board member for MeckPAC, Connie Vetter says the allegations against MeckPAC are grounds for concern and need to be addressed. “I’m not sure the current board is who should address it,” she says. “It may be time for them to step aside and let some new people come in.”
Comer resigned from his role as chair of MeckPAC in a statement sent to qnotes on Monday and stated that he would not serve in any volunteer capacity with the organization. He also confirmed using a MeckPAC debit card to make purchases that were not associated with the organization.
“These mistaken charges were made on the organization debit card issued to me,” stated Comer. He confirms $129.60 in expenses in June 2018, July 2018, November 2018 and December 2018 — a number slightly less than the totals qnotes questioned. Comer says he repaid the amount on Dec. 12, 2018. qnotes has not been able to verify that transaction. “At the time, the full board was notified and a CPA was consulted to ensure these mistaken charges and their reimbursement were accounted for appropriately,” he continued.
MeckPAC was founded in 1998 as an organization to advance the issues of the LGBTQ community in Mecklenburg County, following a desire to oust the “Gang of Five,” a group of five Mecklenburg County Commission members who stripped public funding of the Arts and Science Council after its support of the controversial play “Angels in America” in Charlotte. qnotes will continue following this story.
Jim Yarbrough, qnotes’ publisher, contributed to the investigative work and additional research for this story.