News & Observer: NC Dems say ‘social welfare’ group illegally aids House GOP
By Dan Kane and Craig Jarvis
October 20, 2018
Two years ago, the Carolina Leadership Coalition launched with the stated mission of promoting social welfare by advocating for economic development, innovative education strategies, lower taxation and limited government.
But the group’s website and social media accounts show it wants to keep Republicans in control of the state House, where they have a super majority, with lengthy critiques of House Democratic candidates that include brushes with the law, legal disputes and their criticisms of the NRA.
Two officials with the coalition also have key roles with Citizens for North Carolina, a political action committee supporting House Republicans. Within a month of the 2016 general election, the coalition gave two donations totaling $175,000 to the PAC. Two other coalition officials are identified as political allies of House Speaker Tim Moore from his home county. The coalition, PAC, and House Republicans also use the same businesses to raise money and produce campaign ads.
On Friday, the North Carolina Democratic Party filed a complaint with the state elections and ethics board, contending the coalition is working in concert with Moore and other House Republicans in violation of state election laws. Democrat officials wants the board to investigate the coalition, which they view as a political committee that should have been registered with the elections board.
“House Republicans, including Speaker Moore, are potentially illegally intertwined with an outside group, relying on them to help direct their polling, advertising, opposition research, and even which constitutional amendments they put on the November ballot,” said Kimberly Reynolds, the NCDP’s executive director, in an emailed statement. “Protecting the sanctity of our elections is paramount. This brazen coordination warrants an immediate and full investigation. Any violations must be rooted out and punished to curb future efforts to undermine our elections.”
It’s unclear how much of the coalition-produced material has been used by House Republican candidates or party officials. If the allegations are correct, the coalition could be forced to disclose the donors whose contributions total more than $2 million over the past two years, as well as how much each donor gave. Filings with the North Carolina Secretary of State show once fund-raising expenses were subtracted, the coalition netted $1.95 million. The group could also have to provide more details on its spending.
The NCDP’s complaint focuses on the connections between the coalition, the Citizens for North Carolina PAC, the House Republican Caucus and Speaker Moore.
Records related to the coalition from public sources show:
- One of the founders of the coalition, D. Victor Edwards, who is listed as the secretary/treasurer, is also the assistant treasurer for the citizens PAC. The coalition’s federal tax return lists Murchison “Bo” Biggs, as a director and secretary; he is also the treasurer for the citizen’s PAC. Biggs, a Lumberton businessman, helped found the conservative Carolina Coalition super PAC in 2015. The prior year, then-Speaker Tillis appointed him to the Golden LEAF Foundation.
- Two other founders, Johnny Hutchins and Ronnie Hawkins, are from Moore’s hometown of Kings Mountain. Hutchins is a current Cleveland County commissioner, while Hawkins, who died in 2016, served on the commission for 16 years. Both are Republicans who have contributed to Moore’s election campaigns. Hutchins also voted in favor of hiring Moore as the county attorney, though Hawkins was absent from that vote.
- The coalition’s office in Raleigh is the home of Collin McMichael, the treasurer of the N.C. House Republican Campaign Committee, which lists as members Moore, House Majority Leader John Bell and Rep. John Szoka. McMichael runs a campaign compliance business, CM&Co, and his business email is listed as a contact for the coalition.
- The coalition and the PAC have used the same business, Impact Strategies, for campaign ads, and the same fundraiser, Shook Consulting. The fundraising firm, led by Madison Shook of Raleigh, has also done work for the House Republican Caucus and Moore’s campaign committee. The other fundraiser for the coalition, The Macon Group of Greenville, lists as president Jonathan Brooks, a lobbyist with the Ward & Smith law firm in Raleigh.
- In May, the coalition produced a poll that gauged support for several proposed constitutional amendments. One in particular, to create a voter ID, the poll’s author found, would drive up turnout among Republicans with low interest in the election, with “minimal” push-back from opponents. A month later, state lawmakers in the GOP controlled legislature put that proposed amendment and five others suggested by the poll’s author on the ballot for November.
The coalition has drawn some notice. The Daily Haymaker, a conservative news outlet, among others raised questions about the coalition in August after its campaign ads began showing up in mailboxes.
Democratic officials are asking the elections board to force the return of any donations the coalition had improperly spent on elections. They also want the board to request a state judge to freeze the coalition’s operations while it’s being investigated, and call upon the Wake County district attorney to conduct a probe.