Politics & Government

Who’s trying to influence NC elections? Club For Growth, AIPAC, Realtors and more

US President George Washington is shown on the $1 bill. DANIEL ACKER BLOOMBERG NEWS

Following the money

The group has very few donors with North Carolina ties. Its main PAC has raised $1.3 million for the 2022 elections, and only about 1% of that came from North Carolinians.

Donors from the Tar Heel State have given the group about $15,000, most it from a single retiree in Chapel Hill. The records further show that even among the money that donors asked to specifically earmark to be given to certain North Carolina candidates endorsed by the group, most of that money still didn’t come from North Carolinians.

Of the roughly $107,000 earmarked for Budd, $605 came from local donors.

Of the roughly $18,000 earmarked for Hines, $10 came from local donors, only $5 of which was for the seat he’s currently seeking.

Of the roughly $12,000 earmarked for Charlotte Rep. Dan Bishop, $30 came from local donors. Unlike Budd and Hines, Bishop is not expected to face a competitive primary.

Like the regular PAC, the group’s Super PAC is also dominated by out-of-state money, and specifically a small handful of millionaires and billionaires who have given millions of dollars at a time.

The group’s two biggest donors are Richard Uihline, whose family founded Schlitz Beer and who is the CEO of a Wisconsin shipping company called Uline, and Jeffrey Yass, a Wall Street trader from Pennsylvania. They gave Club For Growth a combined $58 million during the 2018 and 2020 elections, British newspaper The Guardian reported, and around $20 million more this year.

Their support in recent years, The Guardian reported in 2021, coincided with the Club For Growth’s shift from a group mostly concerned with tax policy “to one that backs some of the most radical and anti-democratic Republican lawmakers in Congress.”

When visitors to The Club For Growth’s website click on the “What We Do” tab, the first thing that shows up now is a video promoting far-right Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, an avid backer of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Yass has also given $5 million to a different PAC that’s involved in the North Carolina Senate race on Budd’s behalf, called the School Freedom Fund.

OpenSecrets, a media site that tracks political spending, reported that the School Freedom Fund spent over $1 million on an ad that accuses McCrory of putting liberal activists on a statewide textbook committee that then mandated school lessons about “critical race theory.”

The ad is largely untruthful, PolitiFact NC reported: That committee couldn’t actually mandate anything, there was no CRT involved in what it did recommend, and McCrory had little power over who was on the board. But even though the ad was misleading, it continued spreading, PolitiFact reported. The Club For Growth aired a similar ad, featuring Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson repeating some of the false claims.

Other outside spending

While the Club For Growth may be among the biggest players in North Carolina’s primaries in terms of both money and national influence, it’s far from the only group trying to sway primaries this spring and help determine who makes it to the general election in November.

On the Democratic side, for instance, a Super PAC associated with the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC is backing Democrats who are facing more progressive challengers. They have spent millions of dollars on ads supporting Davis over Smith in the District 1 primary, plus Valerie Foushee, whose main opponents are Nida Allam and Clay Aiken in the Durham-centric District 4.

In the NC-04 race covering Durham and Chapel Hill another Super PAC, largely funded by a 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire, has also spent another $1 million backing Foushee.

The News & Observer reported last week that those two groups have spent more money on pro-Foushee ads than all eight candidates in the race have reported raising from their supporters, combined.

And it’s not just congressional races where outside money is pouring in, either.

The Democratic primary for Wake County District Attorney has attracted the attention of several progressive and civil rights groups, including the ACLU, as longtime DA Lorrin Freeman faces a challenge from a pro-reform defense attorney, Damon Chetson.

Some groups are active on both sides of the aisle, like the NC Chamber of Commerce.

While the Chamber is typically associated with conservative politics and has gotten involved in some GOP primaries this year, campaign finance reports show its main focus so far has been on three Democratic primaries for the N.C. General Assembly.

It has reported spending over $100,000 on behalf of: Patrick Buffkin, a Raleigh city councilman who’s running for an empty state Senate seat in North Raleigh; former state lawmaker Tricia Cotham, who’s seeking a comeback in an empty seat in southeastern Mecklenburg County; and Sen. Kirk deViere, a moderate from Fayetteville who’s facing a more progressive challenger endorsed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

The NC Property Rights Fund, a political arm of the influential NC Association of Realtors lobbying group, is also active in both Democratic and Republican primaries, records show.

It has spent nearly $1 million backing candidates in races ranging from the Charlotte and Fayetteville City Councils to state legislative primaries for both Republicans and Democrats. Its biggest target for support so far has been Buffkin.

This story was originally published May 13, 2022 6:00 PM.

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