The State Board of Elections on Thursday fined the Republican Governors Association (search) nearly $200,000 for an allegedly illegal television ad it ran on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine (search).

The elections panel voted 3-2 for the fine, with the board's three Democrats voting in the majority.

The board unaninmously determined last week that association violated state election law by using corporate contributions to pay for the ad for Ballantine, a former state senator running against Democratic incumbent Mike Easley.

The law saysused to pay for ads that advocate issues, but not for ads that endorse candidates.

"I think there is a long-standing history in North Carolina that corporate contributions have no place in express advocacy," said Scott Falmlen, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Falmlen said the penalty, based on how much the association said it cost to produce and air the ad, apparently is the largest fine of its kind in state history.

Association executive director Edward Tobin said the group likely would appeal. He said the ruling "was a political decision made by three Democratic appointees of Gov. Mike Easley. It's an unprecedented response to what a board member termed an unintentional infraction."