In tonight's story on former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory's unofficial 2012 gubernatorial campaign, Bob Hall with election watchdog group Democracy NC said there are some advantages to being an undeclared candidate.
One example Hall cited was the series of robocalls and videos McCrory recorded for Americans for Prosperity during this year's legislative session. In this example, McCrory attacks his likely 2012 rival Gov. Bev Perdue for vetoing an attempt by legislative Republicans to exempt the state from federal healthcare reform. McCrory: Waiting to enter race saves money, builds support The site is paid for by Americans for Prosperity.
In another example, heard here, McCrory urges voters to attend an AFP rally at the legislature "to tell Governor Perdue she cannot veto the will of the people or veto new jobs for North Carolina." The robocall is paid for by Americans for Prosperity.
Hall said those messages amount to free advertising support for McCrory. "He loves it because it gets his name out to all these thousands and thousands of households – 'I’m Pat McCrory' – so there’s no expense to him to do that. That's one of the freebies he gets."
It's perfectly legal to raise money for a run for office before you've declared what office you're running for, Hall said. And official candidate status wouldn't change campaign finance rules for McCrory. Campaign committees have to follow the same rules whether or not the person raising money has declared a run for an office.
The real issue, Hall said, is how third-party groups can interact with that person. Americans for Prosperity, for example, is a 501c3 geared toward voter education, and its 501c4 arm advocates for "social welfare" issues. By law, a 501c3 cannot advocate for (or oppose) a particular candidate. A 501c4 which does so can be assessed taxes for money spent on such advocacy. Neither type of organization is required to disclose its contributors.
Hall says AFP and other third-party groups might be wary of working with someone who has declared a run for office. "There's some issues around candidate-specific communication," he said, "even outside of election season itself, that requires disclosure of spending that names a candidate. I think they may be a little nervous about that."
Americans for Prosperity state president Dallas Woodhouse confirmed that. "If [McCrory] were a candidate," Woodhouse said, "he wouldn't be doing robocalls for us."
But Woodhouse was vehement in insisting that both AFP and McCrory had benefited from the calls. His emailed statement went into more detail:
Americans for Prosperity is proud of its successful partnership with Mayor Pat McCrory in advancing Medical Malpractice and regulatory reform. Mayor McCrory was also key in the AFP lead effort to kill a Bob Hall lead effort to expand forced taxpayer support of political campaigns. We thank Mayor McCrory for his support of free market legislation, and look forward to continuing to work with him. AFP does not coordinate with candidates for public office.
"Any criticism from liberal Bob Hall must be taken with a grain of salt, since Hall clearly still has a vendetta against AFP and Mr. McCrory," Woodhouse added.
(Hall was not actually the lead proponent of recent public campaign financing initiatives, but he has been an outspoken advocate for them.)
The national Americans for Prosperity group has strong ties to North Carolina: NC GOP donor Art Pope is one of its four directors. The group is bankrolled in part by conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch.
McCrory, meantime, had a very different explanation for delaying his candidacy.
"When we announce, we want to make sure there is total support, both from people on the ground and also financial support. I was outspent three to one in the last campaign," McCrory explained today. "Frankly, it's a long season for both the citizens - voters- and my family. This is one way to shorten that season and make it affordable for someone who also has to make a living, including myself. I'm not independently wealthy."
McCrory said he's currently working at a law firm and on a venture with his brother, along with a couple of enterprenurial projects. "it was both a personal decision and I think the right political decision to wait to make an announcement till next year," he continued. "It's tough to decide to run for public service because it's tough on my family, it's tough on my finances. But it does seem to be a calling."
"We're making all the moves necessary to make an announcement for governor early next year. And based upon the reaction I got here today in Raleigh," he said, smiling, "it gives me strong motivation to continue with our plans."