@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Senate Majority PAC uses staffer scandal against Tillis

Posted April 15, 2014 10:59 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2014 11:47 p.m. EDT

A still picture from "Let's clean up her mess" ad by Thom Tillis.

— Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC linked to Senate Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is using a 2012 scandal to attack Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis.

The Washington Post first reported the ad Tuesday night, providing a link to the PAC's YouTube channel.

"Thom Tillis shared an apartment with his chief of staff when North Carolina news reported that the chief of staff was having an extramarital affair with a lobbyist and was caught on camera and resigned," the ad begins. "Then, one week later, another Tillis staffer resigns for another sexual relationship with a lobbyist. Thom Tillis' reaction? He claimed he was surprised by his roommate's affair but then rewarded both aides with taxpayer-paid bonuses. Thom Tillis: Spending our money to clean up his mess."

The incident referenced in the commercial came to light just before the May 2012 legislative short session. Charles Thomas, who was Tillis' chief of staff and roommate, resigned after admitting to a romantic relationship with a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association. The affair was problematic both because Thomas was married and because of the perception that Thomas could have used his role to do favors for the lobbyist.

Days later, Tillis' policy adviser, Amy Hobbs, resigned after volunteering to Tillis that she, too, had had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist. The story surfaced again two weeks later when it was reported Tillis paid roughly $19,000 in severance to the two staffers in question.

Polls show Tillis, the state House speaker, is the leader among eight Republicans vying for the chance to take on U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, in this year's general election. Super PACs from both sides of the political spectrum have been spending heavily on the race, although most of their television advertising anticipates a Hagan-Tillis showdown rather than focusing on the primary. 

This is not the first time the 2-year-old scandal has been used in the campaign. Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary, who along with Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte and Wilkesboro nurse Heather Grant are the Republicans closest to Tillis in the primary polls, referenced the resignations in a January fundraising letter. But with nearly $1 million behind it, according to The Washington Post, the Senate Majority PAC ad will have much more reach.

According to FCC filings, the commercial will run on broadcast television in every major television market in the state. 

So why would Democrats run an ad against Tillis before he is officially Hagan's opposition? 

The worst case scenario is it gives the Democratic side of the ledger that much of a head start on the fall campaign. The conservative Americans for Prosperity has already spent about $8 million on ads attacking Hagan. This evens that score a bit. 

In a best-case scenario, the early advertising damages Tillis enough that he is forced into a runoff. Primary winners need at least 40 percent of the vote, or the second-place challenger can call for a runoff. That would drain money from Tillis' campaign war chest and maybe scare off some donors who would be concerned he couldn't close out a trio of relatively unknown political novices. Also, a second primary campaign would overlap with this year's North Carolina General Assembly session, forcing Tillis to manage the campaign as he manages the sometimes messy budget process or excuses himself from one of the state's highest-profile jobs.