Raleigh, N.C. — When Pat McCrory stumps with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today, "Hootie the Owl" will be on hand to ask "Who Pays Pat?"
Hootie has been dogging the Republican gubernatorial candidate's events this year on behalf of Progress NC and Progress NC Action, a pair of progressive nonprofits with ties the Democrats. Progress NC's thrust has been that McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor who now works as a business consultant for a law firm, should release his tax returns and a list of his clients.
"Christie has a history of transparency with his tax returns, but will he tell Pat McCrory to do the same? Not likely. According to the Charlotte Observer, a leaked memo from the McCrory campaign has instructed Christie to not talk about McCrory's tax returns," a release from the group said today.
McCrory has said that his statement of economic interest filed with the N.C. Ethics Commission contains all the information he's required to release.
"Every source of income he has is on that form," McCrory spokesman Brian Nick said of the SEI.
And conservatives backing McCrory have quietly suggested that more should be known about Progress NC, a 501(c)3, and Progress Action, a 501(c)4.
At WRAL-TV's request, Gerrick Brenner, the executive director for both groups, sent along the IRS form 990 for both group. The 2011 form, the latest available, gives rough outline of their budgets and operations.
But neither the 990 for the 501(c)3, which cannot directly advocate in a political campaign, or the 501(c)4, which is allowed to speak more directly about candidates and issues, lists donors for the group.
"We follow the rules of the road and the letter of the law, which are ultimately set by Congress," Brenner said. Neither group is required to disclose its donors. We asked him if he would voluntarily give a list of donors or top donors for either organization.
"We have donors of all shapes and sizes all across the state, who share progressive values about the value of funding our public universities and public schools, and smart investments like Research Triangle Park," Brenner said. But he declined to list specific donors.
It's worth noting that the 501(c)4's board includes Brad Thompson, a former Raleigh city council member and former staffer for Sen. John Edwards, and Dean Debnam, CEO of Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling. The group has served as a mouthpiece for N.C. Citizens for Progress, a 527 group that has aired commercials targeting McCrory.
According to their 990s, the two groups raised less than $200,000 combined in 2011, although information about what they have raised and spent in 2012 is unavailable.
Brenner stressed his groups disclosed all they were legally required to disclose, which is an answer very similar to what McCrory says when pressed about his own returns.
"To compare a nonprofit like us to somebody who wants to be governor, who is going to appoint regulators, members of the banking commission, members of the mining and energy commission...the comparison doesn't hold up," Brenner said. "They're just not equal. Progress NC Action isn't running for governor."
Brenner said that McCrory has also made a campaign issue out of "cleaning up Raleigh" and making politicians more accountable.
"(He) refuses to discloses while he runs around the state talking about the need for a cleaner government and more transparency," Brenner said.