University foundations, engineering firms among major donors to bond campaign

Posted March 8, 2016

— The bulk of the $2 million raised on behalf of the Connect NC bond referendum came from foundations associated with the state's universities and community colleges, which stand to benefit from the $2 billion referendum.

That fundraising was disclosed in several reports filed this week. Although several of the contributions are listed as if they came from the universities themselves, bond committee spokesman Brad Crone said that all the donations came from private funds.

"No public institutions made any donations to the committee," Crone said.

The fundraising and spending by those in favor of the bond far outstrips the opposition, which reported raising just over $2,000 so far.

"I am not surprised," said Nicole Revels, the leader of NC Against the Bonds. "It has been my suspicion all along that the Connect NC bond campaign was being bankrolled by the potential beneficiaries."

Revels pointed to donations from architectural and engineering firms – companies that could apply to take part in the new construction should the bond pass. Among those donors are Stewart Engineering of Fayetteville ($2,500), W.K. Dickson & Co. of Charlotte ($5,000), Gilbane Building Co. of Providence, R.I., ($10,000) and Mulkey Engineering Consultants of Raleigh ($1,000).

"That causes me to question whether there is a pay-to-play environment for the upcoming bid process," she said.

Crone denied that charge.

"People who have an interest in the bond donate for it," he said. "The building community, yes, they clearly have an interest in the success of the bond. Is there pay to play? No more so than in any other element of politics."

He noted that any bond-funded projects would be put out to bid in a "laborious" state contracting process.

"Donation to the Connect NC committee does not translate into any kind of promise to work," Crone said. "It's rather insulting to make that assertion."

With early voting underway for the March 15 primary, voters have the option to approve or reject the bond. A WRAL News poll released Tuesday showed voters favoring the bond 45 percent to 18 percent, with more than a third undecided.

WRAL News poll: Primary 2016

More than half of spending from the bond would be earmarked for building projects for the University of North Carolina system. Another $350,000 would go toward community college buildings. So, it makes sense that donors associated with the UNC and community college systems would be among they major donors.

Among the individual donations was a $1,000 contribution from new UNC President Margaret Spellings and a $150,000 contribution from Jim Goodnight, the co-founder and chief executive of SAS Institute in Cary.

North Carolina State University's foundation gave $160,000, and UNC-Chapel Hill's foundation chipped in $35,000. Similar amounts came from foundations across the UNC system, as well as community college private funds.

"Most of the monies raised around the 2000 bond came from the foundations around university and community colleges systems, too," Crone said.

Other corporate donors include the North Carolina Chamber ($35,000), the North Carolina Community Colleges Foundation ($40,000), The Nature Conservancy ($5,000) and Duke Energy ($25,000).

Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent of WRAL News, also contributed $10,000 to the bond effort.

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  • Barry Eriksen Mar 8, 2016
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    Kind of sleazy for the Connect NC Bond Committee to say they don't receive public money when there is almost $1 million that was donated to these public institutions being directed to them. Pay to play? You bet.