Raleigh, N.C. — A group of wealthy Republican donors plans to raise $400,000 to use in support of Gov. Pat McCrory by launching "hard-hitting ads against Roy Cooper," according to a fundraising email obtained by WRAL News.
McCrory, a Republican, is running to keep his job against Cooper, a Democrat and the state's current attorney general.
In order to raise that money from both corporate and individual donors, Real Jobs NC was planning Thursday to hold a fundraiser Friday with two special guests of honor: U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and McCrory himself. McCrory's appearance for a group that is supposed to be an "independent spender" – meaning his campaign and the group may not talk directly about political messages and tactics – could be legal but raises concerns for campaign finance officials.
"It is unclear whether Pat McCrory is coordinating with Real Jobs NC to benefit his campaign, but appearing at the event could generate questions about potential coordination," said Amy Strange, deputy director for campaign finance for the State Board of Elections. "We can’t determine solely on the face of the documents that coordination has occurred or is occurring."
If the group is determined to have coordinated with McCrory, she said, it would likely violation a number of prohibitions on corporate contributions.
Officials with the group and donors named in the email were reluctant to speak about the planned fundraiser Thursday. Michael Whatley, a partner with HBW Resources and the invitation's author, declined to speak on the record about the event but said he believes it may be canceled due to the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. He is a veteran GOP political consultant.
A spokesman for McCrory confirmed he is no longer planning to attend the event.
Real Jobs NC is a conservative independent spending group created under Section 527 of the tax code. It can raise unlimited funds without limits from particular contributors but must report its fundraising and spending and may not coordinate with the candidates it supports. In prior elections, it has been most active in support of Republican lawmakers.
"As you may have heard, David Powers, Art Pope and I have been asked to pull together an effort to fund Real Jobs NC, a 527 organization which will put up a series of hard-hitting ads against Roy Cooper. Initial budget is around $400K," reads the email from Whatley.
Powers is a former tobacco lobbyist and a member of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
"As part of our efforts to line up funding for this effort, we are holding a reception at the Capitol Chop House by the Raleigh airport on Friday. Three of our supporters have pledged to match whatever we raise, so we need to get a minimum of $100K in pledges. I have attached an invitation to the event for your review," continues the email, which was sent Thursday morning.
Pope, whom Whatley names in the email and whom tax records listed as a board member of Real Jobs in 2015, said he was out of town and did not know the specifics surrounding the fundraiser.
"I'm not in a position to talk about Real Jobs NC's goals for it," he said.
Pope is McCrory's former budget director and one of the primary movers behind a network of conservative nonprofits, some of which have been active in campaigns.
Pope referred questions to Real Jobs' chairman, Allen Gant, the chief executive of textile giant Glen Raven. Gant could not immediately be reached for comment, and his secretary said he was traveling. Roger Knight, an attorney for Real Jobs, said he forwarded a reporter's email to board members.
"The governor was invited to stop by an event and speak to a group of supporters about his record of results and vision for North Carolina but, because of the storm, will not be," McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said in an email. "The governor's campaign does not control or coordinate with Real Jobs NC in accordance with the law."
"As North Carolina prepared for a hurricane, Governor McCrory was preparing to raise money for a group that he is legally barred from coordinating with for the specific purpose of running false attacks against Roy Cooper. This is what people hate about politics and why voters are ready to send Pat McCrory packing," said Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper's campaign.