New NC committee has $500,000 to talk 'real jobs'
New political committee talking 'real jobs' may lay groundwork for NC GOP candidates
Monday August 16, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- An image of the Legislative Building provides a backdrop of a television commercial after a man in a blue shirt and red tie standing in front of what could be a closed plant laments what he calls North Carolina's bad business environment.
"We're losing North Carolina jobs, but double-digit unemployment isn't solved by more government," the unidentified speaker says. "Politicians want more taxes, more regulations -- to expand government, hurt our businesses and our employees."
The commercial, which began running in several TV markets last week, began an effort funded by more than $500,000 from two Republican-leaning groups and a business to raise the alarm about recent actions by the General Assembly, which happens to be controlled by Democrats.
While the political organization "Real Jobs NC" is quick to say it's not working to elect or defeat certain candidates -- in keeping with its federal tax designation -- it's clear the criticisms will help plow the ground for Republican hopefuls in state House and Senate races this fall.
State campaign finance records show the group intends to identify House Democrats in swing districts in future projects. GOP supporters believe the bad economy, higher state taxes and unhappiness with President Barack Obama give them a chance to win one or both chambers. Republicans haven't led the Senate since 1898.
"They are setting the state for a campaign to promote Republican candidates" and target some Democrats, said Bob Hall, executive director of the campaign finance reform group Democracy North Carolina. "They are hitting the key themes that the Republican Party is indicating will be [its] message."
Real Jobs NC was created in May as a so-called "527" group, named after the section of the federal tax code through which it's registered. The political group can receive unlimited contributions from businesses and individual donors and generate commercials and other campaign materials as long as it focuses on issues.
While a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year now allows corporations to spend money to campaign directly on behalf of or against a candidate, 527 groups still have limits on activity. Candidates can be named in "electioneering communications" as long as they don't directly campaign for or against them.
"Real Jobs North Carolina is not partisan. We hope this message reaches all voters," said Art Pope, a Real Jobs NC leader and longtime Republican activist whose family company has given $100,000 to the effort. Personally, Pope said he believes "the Democratic parties at the national level and at the state level have in effect destroyed jobs."
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to elect GOP candidates at the state and local levels, gave $$00,000 to the group in June and July, according to a State Board of Elections report filed last week.
Another $100,000 came from Rightchange.com, a Wilmington-based, conservative-leaning 527 political group whose leaders include two Republican lawmakers and Fred Eshelman, chairman of PPD, a contract research company. Eshelman is also listed as a director at Real Jobs NC.
Pope and his Variety Wholesalers Inc., which made the other sizable donation, are no strangers to political activism. Variety Wholesalers or Variety Stores, another Pope family business, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a 527 in the 2004 and 2006 election cycles to defeat what he called moderate Republican lawmakers he believed betrayed the party by working with Democrats.
The group's election board filing said it intends to spend $15,000 on materials that identify Democratic Reps. Hugh Holliman of Davidson County and Alice Underhill of Craven County. Both represent what are considered swing districts. Real Jobs NC also will use mailers and radio ads, said Roger Knight, an attorney for the group.
One Democratic leader took note of the corporate executives connected to those giving to the Real Jobs group in criticizing the effort.
"In our system, there will always be wealthy people who will try to buy elections with their money," said House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange. Other 527s have been used to promote Democrats in the past.
"I sure hope Democrats will come forward and hopefully combat things like this," he said.
The Real Jobs effort comes as the state GOP and its legislative candidates have narrowed the gap with Democratic counterparts in fundraising. Although campaign reports through June 30 showed Senate Republican candidates essentially even with Democrats with cash on hand of more than $2 million each, House Democrats report having a more than 2-to-1 cash advantage over Republicans.
Mark Binker in the Greensboro News & Record recently deconstructed the negative claims in the Real Jobs NC mailers and found them wanting. He especially exploded the group's claim (for tax-exempt status under the IRS) that it's "non-partisan." Greg Flynn also did investigative reporting on the group and its principal benefactor Fred Eshelman, who is listed as "Director" and "President" of Real Jobs NC on its IRS filing form.