Normally, you’d expect an executive director of a political party to be out there promoting the agenda of said party. In North Carolina, the NCGOP executive director has apparently become a bigger story than his party:
ONE corner of the world of “dark money” just got a little brighter, and it doesn’t bode well for the 2016 election.
A recent tax filing by Carolina Rising, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, shows that in 2014 the group spent $4.7 million on ads that had one thing in common: touting the legislative accomplishments of Thom Tillis, who was then North Carolina’s speaker of the House. That year, Mr. Tillis also happened to be trying to unseat Kay Hagan, the incumbent Democratic senator.
Carolina Rising spent the money in a three-month blitz leading up to Election Day, but we may never learn where these millions came from. The partial disclosure required of 501(c)(4) outfits means that while we do know that 98.7 percent of the group’s revenue came from a single donor and that virtually every penny of it was used to further the cause of Mr. Tillis’s campaign, we don’t know who Carolina Rising’s secret benefactor was.[…]
Dallas Woodhouse, the Republican consultant who ran Carolina Rising, did away with any further pretense when he was interviewed live by a local news channel at the Tillis campaign’s election-night victory celebration. Sporting a Thom Tillis hat, Mr. Woodhouse, who was named executive director of the state’s Republican Party last month, was asked about his group’s spending “a whole lot of money to get this man elected.”
Mr. Woodhouse responded, “$4.7 million. We did it.”
Yet less than a year later, when it came time for Carolina Rising to report its activities to the I.R.S., it said it had not engaged in “direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office.”
In an email, Mr. Woodhouse said that the ads his group paid for were “not political in nature” but highlighted issues Mr. Tillis would routinely deal with as a state legislator. They ran during an election for “maximum exposure,” he said, not to influence Mr. Tillis’s Senate bid. He also dismissed his “overly excited election night comment” as “not reflective of the organization’s actions.”
Has Carolina Rising set the bar low enough for either the F.E.C. or the I.R.S. to say, finally, that enough is enough?
And then there’s the doyenne of North Carolina’s royal drive-by court, The N&O. It’s expected for their op-ed page to beat on Republicans. But this time, they may have a few good points:
Dallas Woodhouse, a longtime Republican political operative and now the newly hired executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, has a knack for showmanship. But on Election Night 2014, the showman might have shown too much.
At a Charlotte hotel where Republicans were celebrating big wins in the mid-term election, Woodhouse appeared for a TV interview wearing sunglasses and a paper campaign hat emblazoned with the name of winning GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis. Woodhouse said his get-up was the kind of disguise that embarrassed Democrats would be wearing in the aftermath of the Republicans’ big gains, most notably Tillis’ unseating of Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan.
But the problem was that Woodhouse dropped the disguise he’d been wearing throughout the campaign. He was the head of Carolina Rising, a 501(c)(4) educational nonprofit that under IRS rules must not affiliate or coordinate with a political candidate’s campaign or spend more than half of its resources on politics.
But when the TV reporter asked Woodhouse, “You just mentioned you (Carolina Rising) spent a whole lot of money to get this man (Tillis) elected right?” Woodhouse responded, “$4.7 million dollars. We did it.”
That admission raises serious questions about the legality of Carolina Rising and the source of its funding. The Center for Responsive Politics reports on its website OpenSecrets.org that Carolina Rising’s tax filing “shows that the organization raised nearly $4.9 million in its first year – $4.8 million of it from a single donor; nearly all of that went out the door to a prominent political media firm in Virginia for ads mentioning Tillis.”
Under the law, the single, anonymous donor who helped Tillis win can remain secret, but under a sense of openness and accountability Tillis or the N.C. Republican Party should ask the donor for a voluntary disclosure.
Otherwise, North Carolinians are left to wonder who used Carolina Rising to spend millions for nearly 4,000 TV ads supporting Tillis? And what does the donor expect in return?