Raleigh, N.C. — People – people who need campaign donations – may not be the luckiest people in the world, but Attorney General Roy Cooper has had some luck in raising funds from those who live outside of North Carolina, including singer and actress Barbra Streisand.
Cooper, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, garnered about 12 percent of the money raised for his campaign from donors outside the state in 2015. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory reeled in about 14 percent of the he money raised from out-of-state donors during the same time period.
Campaign finance data maintained by the State Board of Elections shows McCrory received more than $190,000 from donors in Florida during 2015, by far the biggest source of his out-of-state contributions. McCrory raised more than $25,000 from donors in each of four other jurisdictions: New York, Washington, D.C., Virginia and South Carolina.
In Cooper's case, the top two out-of-state reservoirs for donations were New York and California in 2015, totaling up to more than $107,000 between them. Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut were the three other states from which Cooper collected more than $25,000 in donations in 2015.
Although governors are state officials, those from large states such as North Carolina often have national profiles. Debates on issues including admitting Syrian refugees to the United States and expanding Medicaid often land on the doorstep of the Executive Mansion. As well, with Congress increasingly paralyzed by partisanship and often inclined to hand more power to the states when it does act, a state's chief executive is frequently in position to play an active role in debates national donors care about.
"It shows you this is the top governor's race in the nation," Cooper campaign strategist Morgan Jackson said of the out-of-state donations for both men.
Jackson credits Cooper's out-of-state donations to University of North Carolina system graduates and other former North Carolina residents who are unhappy with the turn the state has taken since the GOP took over the legislature in 2011 and the governor's mansion in 2013. "There are a lot of North Carolina ex-pats out there and they don't like what they're seeing in the national media."
Asked the same question, McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz said the governor's track record was attracting donors.
"I think generally, you see a lot of people nationally taking note of Governor McCrory's strong leadership in rebuilding North Carolina," Diaz said. He also pointed to a fundraising email Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sent on McCrory's behalf that made reference "liberal media, radical left and big-government labor bosses." Diaz said suggested that "out-of-state special interest money" on the left has helped draw support to McCrory from conservatives around the country.
Both Cooper and McCrory get the bulk of their donations from inside North Carolina. The same can be said of both men's primary opponents.
Ken Spaulding, a Durham lawyer running against Cooper, got roughly 11 percent of his donations from out of state, according to records maintained by the State Board of Elections. Robert Brawley, a former lawmaker from Iredell County who is challenging McCrory, did not file his reports electronically, so his donations were not available for quick analysis. However, a review of the paper file indicates most of Brawley's donations came from in-state.
"Unless it's skewed wildly out of balance, say 85 percent from outside your state, I don't think it's something that's necessarily going to register on voters' radars," said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College.
While individual donations can raise questions about the appearance of conflicts of interest, the influence of a single donation is always going to be limited. In North Carolina, a donor is allowed to give $5,100 per primary and another $5,100 for the general election.
McCrory and Cooper both raised more than $2.5 million in the last six months of 2015. Cooper began 2016 with $4.9 million in the bank, while McCrory had $4.1 million on hand.
Both candidates will next file fundraising reports in March. Of course, those reports account only for money given directly to the candidates. Millions more is expected to flow through super PACs, nonprofit groups and other organizations not accountable directly to the candidates.
Still, a quick review of donations from out-of-state donors revealed a few points of interest.
Streisand's $1,000 check wasn't the only entertainment and media industry donation to Cooper. Executives and employees with ABC, the Bloomberg financial news service, Comcast, Droog films and HBO are all Cooper donors.
As well, a handful of large law firms – such as Oklahoma's Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis and Labaton Sucharow of New York – count multiple attorneys among Cooper's donors. Jackson points out that Cooper, a lawyer, has been attorney general for 15 years and is a former head of the National Association of Attorneys General, so he has a broad network developed over the years.
Other contributors to Cooper include ACN, a multi-level marketing company which provides telecommunications, energy, banking and other services, and Legal Shield, a company that offers pre-paid legal services.
No fewer than five of McCrory's Florida donors are connected with the Tryon International Equestrian Center in western North Carolina. Katherine and Mark Bellissimo, who are investors in a similar center in Florida, are credited with $5,100 donations each, and their daughter, Nicole Bellissimo, is credited with a $5,036.47 in-kind contribution. McCrory's campaign finance report lists her as a student at Harvard University.
"I'm not going to get into one or two individual contributions out of thousands that may have been made to the governor's campaign," McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz said when asked about those donations and a handful of others.
Other notable donations to McCrory include executives with MCNA Dental and Mednax, both companies that have contracts in other states to work with Medicaid patients. North Carolina is in the process of turning its Medicaid system over to private vendors.
Executives with Charter Schools USA, the National Rifle Association and MetLife are also among the out-of-state donors to McCrory.