US Rep. Madison Cawthorn reports $300K campaign deficit after month-long filing delay

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina spent heavily in the leadup to his May primary loss to state Sen. Chuck Edwards.

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Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s campaign entered July with a deficit of more than $300,000, according to a new Federal Election Commission report.
The 27-year-old Republican, who narrowly lost his reelection bid in the May primary, entered July with about $305,000 in outstanding debt and about $1,500 in cash on hand. His campaign submitted the paperwork Sunday, nearly a month after the FEC’s July 15 reporting deadline.

“The closing out of a large campaign can sometimes take more time than anticipated,” Blake Harp, Cawthorn’s chief of staff, told WRAL News last week.

Much of the money Cawthorn’s campaign owed at the start of July was to a business associated with a campaign adviser and top congressional staff member of his. Cawtorn entered July owing $184,000 to Harp’s EMP Strategies, a firm that helped with campaign consulting and media placements.

Harp’s email address is listed at the top of the Cawthorn campaign's statement of organization. Harp didn’t immediately respond to requests for additional comment Monday.
Harp has faced questions about whether he surpassed outside income limits for senior staff members through his business. Luke Ball, a former Cawthorn spokesman, previously said he didn’t believe Harp was subject to the outside limits.

Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee communications director, said the financial relationship between Cawthorn and Harp is surprising.

“Having your largest debtor be your chief of staff and your aide is extremely unusual,” Heye said. “When you’re working for a member of Congress, there are then limits of what you’re able to do. … I don’t know of any aides who had their own consultancy that they were setting up, much less when you’re talking about money of that size. It’s a situation I’ve never heard of. It is highly unusual and will lead to further ethics investigations.”

In May, the House Ethics Committee announced a separate review, saying it would look into allegations that Cawthorn improperly invested in cryptocurrency and had a potentially inappropriate relationship with a staff member. The Office of Congressional Ethics on Monday declined to comment on the status of that investigation or whether it has opened any other cases related to Cawthorn.

Cawthorn has also come under scrutiny for using taxpayer and campaign funds to pay his second cousin, Stephen Smith. Cawthorn and Smith have defended themselves from the criticism of the perception of family-dealing, noting that Smith helps transport Cawthorn, who was left partially paralyzed after a car accident and now uses a wheelchair.

By July 1, Cawthorn owed $42,000 to Harris Media, a Texas-based communications and marketing agency that provided Cawthorn with digital fundraising support. The remaining debt comes from $75,000 Cawthorn loaned to his campaign.

Ball, the former Cawthorn spokesman, declined to comment on the congressman’s campaign finances. He referred questions to Micah Bock, a political consultant, who declined to comment and said he didn’t work for the campaign.

In an Aug. 1 letter, the FEC warned Cawthorn’s campaign about its delayed filing, writing, “It is important that you file this report immediately.”
Cawthorn’s statement of organization lists the congressman as the campaign’s treasurer, but the report filed on Sunday identified Thomas Datwyler as treasurer.

Around the date of the FEC letter, Cawthorn appeared to have just concluded a trip through Washington, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida to celebrate his birthday. An Aug. 3 Instagram post from Cawthorn showed him in a bulletproof vest holding a pistol in what appeared to be an in-person security exercise or simulation. Harp, the close adviser Cawthorn owed nearly $184,000 as of July 1, also appeared in the video.

Between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, Cawthorn’s campaign took in nearly $4.1 million, including more than $3.5 million from individual donors, campaign finance records show. But as the May 17 primary election neared and grew more competitive, Cawthorn quickly tapped out his resources.

With nearly three weeks left before his primary loss to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, Cawthorn was nearly $187,000 in the red. He had about $325,000 in outstanding debt and $138,000 in available cash, as of April 27.

The latest FEC filing shows Cawthorn’s campaign deficit increased by 62%, or about $116,000, between April 28 and June 30.

Heye said he believes the increased debt stems from a buy-now, pay-later strategy.

“Campaigns go into debt. It happens and it happens a lot, win or lose,” Heye said. “What’s unusual about Cawthorn is that he was spending general election money in a primary, which you cannot do and is so unheard of.”


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