Raleigh, N.C. — Real Jobs NC, a 527 group that spent heavily to aid Republicans in 2010s legislative elections, will begin airing ads and sending mailers this month, according to its executive director.
"We'll also being doing some mail in the governor's race," said Roger Knight, the group's lawyer and acting executive director.
Real Jobs is backed by Art Pope, a former Raleigh lawmaker and president of Variety Wholesalers, the company that owns Roses and Maxway. A disclosure form filed with the IRS shows other board members include David Powers, a vice president with the parent group of tobacco giant RJ Reynolds, Allen Grant, CEO of textile giant Glenn Raven, Greenville-based lawyer John Marin and Murchison Biggs, a Lumberton businessman.
The group claims financial support from Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group, and in general backs GOP candidates.
"We'd probably rather describe them as pro-business candidates," Knight said. "I think you're right, though. You'll see the majority of them are probably Republicans."
Real Jobs spent heavily in swing districts in 2010, areas where Republicans defeated Democratic incumbents. Knight said closely contested elections would again be a target for the group, but he did not want to specify exactly which contests would be affected until the mailers dropped or TV ads aired.
In preparation for the fall election, Real Jobs may have discovered a loophole to the state's ban on campaign involvement for lobbyists.
In an advisory letter issued by the State Board of Elections Sept. 10, elections director Gary Bartlett advises Knight that contributions to Real Jobs NC are not, technically, political contributions under North Carolina law. From the letter:
N.C.G.S. § 163-278.13B and N.C.G.S. § 163-278.13C address the prohibitions on lobbyist contributions. These statutes prohibit lobbyists from making contributions to candidates for the General Assembly and the Council of State and their candidate campaign committees. It does not prohibit lobbyists from making contributions to other political committees, including independent expenditure political committees. Further, money donated to a group making independent expenditures, such as your client, would not be considered a contribution I and if the source of the money was from a lobbyist, it would not be prohibited by any campaign finance statute. Therefore, independent expenditure groups, such as your client, may accept donations from lobbyists.
Knight said that Real Jobs wasn't specifically targeting lobbyists as potential donors. However, because the definition of lobbying is so broad, some potential donors were afraid they might accidentally step over a line.
"In some instances, at least, folks have expressed some concern. They didn't want to get into trouble," he said.
While Real Jobs may be aiming to make sure it doesn't get donors in trouble, the letter points to a major loophole in the 2007 ban on lobbyist involvement in political races.
"Like water rolling downhill, campaign money kind of finds its path," said Bob Phillips, director of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause. He was surprised by the Board of Elections ruling and described it as a "major loophole" in the law. The lobbyist ban, he said, was meant to prevent one special interest or set of professional lobbyists from having undue influence over the political process.
While lobbyists might not be able to give directly to campaigns, contributions to 527s are publicly disclosed and, in the case of groups like Real Jobs, could serve as a proxy for candidates of one party or the other.
"I don't think it's healthy," Phillips said of the potential to reintroduce lobbyists into the political process.
In theory, this SBOE ruling could clear the way for lobbyist contributions to other types of independent expenditure groups as well, including 501(c)4 groups that don't have to reveal their donors.