Complaint: GOP illegally funneled corporate contributions to NC Republican Party
Corporate donors gave to the Republican Governors Association, which passed on $1.5 million to the state GOP by way of a super PAC. The North Carolina Democratic Party filed a complaint Saturday alleging these contributions are illegal.Posted — Updated
Officials with both the state Republican Party and the Republican Governors Association, a national group that supports GOP candidates such as Gov. Pat McCrory, insist they have followed both federal and state law. Corporate contributions to parties and candidates are illegal under North Carolina campaign finance law, with rare exceptions for things such as referendum efforts and accounts used to pay for party headquarters.
McCrory is running for re-election against Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
In this case, records show the RGA collected money from corporations such as Cary's SAS institute – which alone gave $125,000 to the group on Sept. 7 – through through its "527" organization, which can legally accept and spend unlimited dollars from corporations and individuals alike. The RGA in turn put $13 million into RGA Right Direction, a super PAC that it controls and for which it is the sole funder. It is that super PAC that has donated $1.5 million this year, including $500,000 on Oct. 25, to the North Carolina Republican Party.
The state party is responsible for get-out-the-vote and other organizational efforts behind GOP candidates, including McCrory. It also conducts mass mailing efforts on behalf of state candidates.
"The State Board of Elections must step in to halt this scheme," reads the Democratic Party's complaint, signed by executive director Kimberly Reynolds.
A spokesman for the RGA said Saturday that the contributions do not violate either the prohibition on corporate contributions or limitations on contributions from single donors. In an email, he said Democrats did not seem to understand the state's campaign finance laws.
"This baseless complaint from the North Carolina Democratic Party is a direct attempt to mislead voters. The RGA's contributions contained no corporate dollars, as compliant with state law," RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said in response to questions about the transactions. "Unable to articulate a cohesive message about the issues or counter North Carolina's positive momentum, it's no surprise that Roy Cooper and his friends are using outright falsehoods and fabrications as the closing message for his struggling campaign."
Thompson pointed to reports showing that the Democratic Governors Association put money into the state Democratic Party, including a $1 million transfer reported in by the National Journal last week, and asked how that was different.
Contributions to the state Democratic Party come from a PAC known as Democratic Action, a federal PAC that Democratic Party officials say takes contributions only from individuals and in amounts limited to $5,000 per year, an assertion federal records appear to confirm. Those contributions would be legal under state law.
The structure of the RGA donations, which were reported in part to the state board Thursday, obscures the origin of the money that came to North Carolina. Records available through the IRS, the Federal Elections Commission and the State Board of Elections don't indicate if or how corporate and individual money might be segregated.
"We have received the complaint and will provide notice to appropriate parties, consistent with agency practice," said Kim Strach, director of the State Board of Elections.
Strach has asked the state Republican Party, the RGA and the McCrory campaign committee to answer the complaint by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Bill Gilkeson, a lawyer and campaign finance expert who worked 25 years helping draft election laws at the General Assembly, had not seen either the complaint or the campaign finance filings involved, but he said the facts described by a reporter did raise questions.
"It seems like a legitimate complaint," he said.
Election Day is Nov. 8, and it seems unlikely such a thorny campaign finance issue will be resolved before then. In 2004, a State Board of Elections case involving the RGA and Republican gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine was contested through much of the next year.
"We have a legal team that looks at this to make sure we can take the money before we get it," said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party.
He could not immediately say how that vetting process worked and referred questions about specifics to the RGA.
Woodhouse also raised the objection that the RGA and state party were being asked to "prove their innocence" because public records are unclear on whether personal and corporate contributions have, in fact, been commingled.
"It's very hard for me to prove a negative," he said. "We have reported everything we could possibly report."
Pattern followed in other states
What's different in this case is the circuitous, but apparently uninterrupted, path public records lay out from large individual contributions and corporate such donors as Charlotte-based Duke Energy – which gave $40,000 to the RGA on July 6 – to the the state Republican Party.
The Democratic Party's complaint alleges only $44,240 taken in by the RGA could legally be used in North Carolina.
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