Raleigh – A new Politico Magazine report shows that Thom Tillis may have illegally coordinated campaign strategy with the NRA in 2014 through the use of a common vendor. This revelation comes just months after Tillis was shown likely to have used foreign campaign workers and stolen Facebook data.
This bombshell centers around Tillis’ ad maker, OnMessage, and an apparent shell company they set up, Starboard Strategic, whose only client was the NRA. According to Politico, Starboard Strategic’s website “listed no staff, clients, address, phone number or previous work…[yet] the firm had come out of nowhere to become the NRA’s top election contractor.” The story adds that “the two entities appear to be functionally one and the same,” sharing corporate officers, office addresses, employees and top executives.
So what’s the issue? In 2014, the NRA spent more than $5.5 million to support Tillis’ election – more than they spent on any other candidate that cycle. This is known as an independent expenditure. Federal campaign finance rules “prohibit coordination between official campaigns and outside groups, such as the NRA, who support the same candidate,” as Politico explains. Without any meaningful separation between Tillis’ ad maker and the NRA’s ad maker, the likelihood of illegal coordination between the two is extremely high.
From the Politico story:
A former OnMessage employee who worked out of the Alexandria location in 2014 says Starboard had no separate dedicated presence there. “Beyond some Starboard-labeled thumb-drives lying around, I don’t recall anything within our office that was called or associated with Starboard,” said the former employee who requested anonymity to avoid retribution…
There is also no indication that Starboard has a distinct team of employees working within the offices of OnMessage.
A Republican former FEC chair agrees that this doesn’t pass the smell test, saying, “This evidence raises substantial questions about whether OnMessage and Starboard Strategic were used as conduits for coordination between the NRA and the candidates it was supporting.”
Normally, a firm that works as a common vendor would set up a firewall and require employees working on both sides of the business to sign a firewall policy. According to the report, “it is not known if, or how, OnMessage enforced firewalls in races where Starboard was active on behalf of the NRA.”
“Thom Tillis is yet again in the headlines for shady campaign finance activity, and he is yet again refusing to answer fair questions about whether he broke the law in 2014,” said NCDP Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds. “Tillis owes North Carolinians an explanation for what appears to be a blatant violation of federal election laws.”