Forest super-PAC brag notable as campaigns file financial records
Raleigh, N.C. — Eyes went wide and lawyers cringed Thursday afternoon when Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s campaign took credit for a $1 million donation to a super-PAC that supported him in the last election.
The email blast made clear: Forest raised the money, though it went to an outside group called Truth & Prosperity.
These political action committees have rules forbidding coordination with candidates. Did this not violate them?
It did not, according to attorneys who specialize in campaign finance.
“Candidates can coordinate and affiliate with super-PACs on raising money but can in no way coordinate on the spending of money,” said Josh Lawson, general counsel at the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
Lawson spoke to WRAL News not about Forest’s particular campaign but about the issue in general, explaining sections of state law.
Marshall Hurley, a former general counsel for the state Republican Party who has a long career in election law, agreed with Lawson’s read. That doesn’t mean Forest’s announcement wouldn’t make some people nervous.
“I think you will see different levels of caution there,” Hurley said. “But the trend has been toward less rigidity with some of those issues.”
Michael Weisel, a campaign and elections attorney who works with Democrats, dubbed Forest’s announcement “disturbing.” Other long-time political hands said they were shocked by the campaign’s brazenness, even though it’s not uncommon for politicians to attend fundraisers for outside groups.
So-called “dark-money” groups, nonprofits that don’t have to name their donors, have held fundraisers in North Carolina in recent years with top state officials in attendance. Gov. Roy Cooper’s office has acknowledged his visits to these events, but says that, while the governor speaks at these events, he doesn’t raise money.
A similar dark-money group supported former Gov. Pat McCrory during his term.
But super-PACs have very specific rules, and Bob Hall, the recently retired director of Democracy North Carolina, filed a letter with the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement on Friday, calling for an investigation into Forest’s campaign and dubbing his super-PAC fundraising illegal.
“By his own admission, Forest has engaged in ‘coordination’ with the Super PAC, as defined by NC General Statute,” Hall, a left-leaning watchdog on campaign finance regulations for many years, said in his letter. “It is bad enough that a candidate may appear at a fundraising event for a Super PAC without directly soliciting a contribution, but directly raising funds for the Super PAC is a level of intimate coordination that risks unacceptable political pressure and corruption.”
The state Democratic Party cried foul on Friday as well, with party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds saying Forest was, “not only potentially breaking election law by coordinating with a Republican super PAC, he’s boasting about it.
“Forest’s own claim that he directly raised money for this dark money outside super PAC raises serious ethical concerns and may even be illegal,” Reynolds said in the party statement.
Perhaps worth noting: The $1 million donation in question came from Greg Lindberg, the owner of Eli Global in Durham. Lindberg also donated to the unsuccessful 2016 re-election bid of then-Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who is now chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Lindberg also funded a PAC, the NC Opportunity Committee, that supported Goodwin’s candidacy. An effort to reach Lindberg on Friday was not successful.
Friday was the deadline to file campaign reports covering the last six months of 2017. Filings for a number of high-profile state politicians weren’t available online as of Friday afternoon, and neither were filings for the state Democratic and Republican parties. Come back to @NCCapitol in the coming days for more coverage as those filings hit.
For now, here are a few other things we noticed while churning through the reports that were available:
Marshall lawyered up on impeachment
Think back to the summer of 2017, when House Republicans moved toward an impeachment investigation against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall over accusations that she had allowed people in the U.S. illegally to become notaries public.
The process hasn’t moved forward since. Even some of the Republicans who voted at the committee level to go forward seemed queasy about the prospect, which was pushed mainly by now-former state Rep. Chris Millis. Among other things, Millis could produce no evidence that any law enforcement entity was investigating his accusations against Marshall, which, if true, would have been crimes.
But the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee voted, along party lines, to move forward against the Democratic secretary of state. That same day, campaign records show, Marshall created a legal defense fund, a separate fundraising committee that can be used to cover legal fees. Marshall said Friday that she had hired legal powerhouse Womble Carlyle “within a day of that ambush at the end of June.”
“I knew that I had to play offense, not solely defense,” she said. “If you act like a doormat, you’re going to be a doormat.”
Marshall also said her attorneys sent House Speaker Tim Moore a letter asking a number of questions and asking for emails his office might have about the proceedings. He did not supply anything, she said. Instead, Marshall got word through what she called back channels that there was “no appetite” in the House to move forward.
Moore’s office didn’t immediately comment on Friday, but that has been the sense at the statehouse, particularly since Millis announced his resignation at the beginning of September, citing personal issues.
Oddly enough, none of the donations to Marshall’s legal fund, except the initial $100 she contributed herself, came in until after Millis resigned. The secretary said she’s also not going to assume that, with Millis gone, impeachment has been fully set aside.
So far, the fund has raised $20,244, and it had about $19,400 on hand at the end of last year.
Cooper: $25,000 in state flights
Gov. Roy Cooper’s campaign account lists 41 donors who’ve maxed out so far this cycle, giving the $5,200 cap well ahead of the 2020 gubernatorial primaries.
- Cliff Bleszinski, a Triangle video game magnate
- Dean Debnam, president of the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling firm
- Rick Hendrick, the owner of NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports, and his wife, Linda
- Sam Hunt, a former state transportation secretary and member of the state House, and his wife, Vicky
- David Kirby, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ law partner
Cooper’s campaign cut checks to the state Department of Transportation totaling just over $25,000. Campaign strategist Morgan Jackson said they were reimbursements for state flights that included political stops. The DOT has a formula to figure reimbursement amounts, he said. Jackson also said state planes aren’t used for purely campaign trips, only when there’s a political component to the governor’s otherwise official travel.
The governor’s latest filing also lists a couple of four-figure contributions as “aggregated individual” contributions, which would be a no-no because donations above $50 are supposed to have names attached to them. Jackson said the entries came from a software glitch, which read a pair of refunded contributions as zero-dollar donations, and thus under the $50 limit.
Jackson said the campaign would reach out to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to flag the issue.
Word of Faith and Forest
Among Forest’s 425-plus donors over the last six months was minister Jane Whaley, a lead pastor at Word of Faith Fellowship.
The Spindale church became the target of a federal investigation last year after the Associated Press published accounts of church beatings, choking and body slams meant to purify sinners and beat out devils. The AP account was based on interviews with 43 former members.
Whaley gave Forest $100 at the end of July, months after the story broke, according to campaign finance records. The News & Observer was the first to note the donation. The newspaper also reported that Forest attended a fundraiser in July that included at least one other leader of the church.
Forest chief of staff Hal Weatherman, who is also on the lieutenant governor’s campaign committee, didn’t return WRAL News’ calls on Thursday or Friday.
Hall ‘likely’ to run statewide
Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, walked back some 2020 talk this week after his fundraising total fueled speculation of higher aspirations.
Jonathan Kappler, who heads the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, noted on Twitter that Hall’s $144,545 haul over the last six months might be a precursor for a statewide run. Hall re-tweeted Kappler’s thoughts, adding only one word: “Likely.”
A Hall press release came within hours, promising local constituents that he won’t forget about them.
“Over the last 24-hours, much speculation has been made about my future plans,” he said in the statement. “While a run for statewide office is something I am considering, I am focused on winning re-election to my House seat in 2018.”