#NCSEN: What’s that? The OTHER shoe dropping?

thom sighWe’ve reported extensively on the interesting timing of certain people giving money to Thom Tillis’s Senate campaign and his vocal support of issues those donors care about.  We had Tillis voicing support for film incentives, and then — within days — had folks tied to a movie studio in Wilmington dumping a lot of money on his campaign.  We had beer wholesalers pouring money into the Tillis campaign right about the time state House leadership was bottling up efforts to loosen state regulations to the benefit of independent brewers.

Now, it appears WCNC in Charlotte has found one more questionable scenario involving Tillis, some wealthy donors, their real estate deals, and the proposed I-77 toll lane project enthusiastically backed by Tillis:

Toll lanes on I-77 – the DOT says they’re coming – but many voters don’t like them.


Thom Tillis supports the toll lanes. He has for years. In a May 2011 televised interview on Carolina Business Review, Tillis told interviewer Steve Crump, “I think we have to take a serious look at toll roads…we don’t have enough money coming in for the needs we have.”

Now the NBC Charlotte I-Team has documented that a group of big time Tillis campaign contributors stands to make millions from your tax dollars tied to the toll lanes.

For some background on this story, look here for details on the real estate deal and here for details on the donors in question.     Here’s more from the Charlotte TV station: 

This story all starts with a prime piece of Cornelius real estate called Augustalee.

Before the great recession, developers dreamed of turning this old farm into something like Birkdale Village. They planned a half billion dollar complex with shopping, office space, a hotel and condos.

But in the recession the deal went bust. The bank took the land. Then a couple of years ago a group of executives from a company called ACN bought Augustalee at the relative bargain price of $7 million.

ACN is a multi-level marketer like Amway. It’s based in an office building clearly visible along I-85 in Concord, NC. ACN received tax incentives to move to North Carolina from Michigan in 2008.


When ACN executives invested in the prime Cornelius property, they needed one key thing to develop Augustalee – a new exit ramp off I-77.

With an exit – insiders say their land more than doubles in value – and they stand to make millions. Without it, Cornelius town leaders say no one can develop the property because a development that size would require access to 77 at or near Westmoreland Road.

There are already exits 25 and 28 on I-77– but Augustalee needs a new exit 27.sock1

To the NC DOT, a new exit 27 has never been a priority. There are too many other projects that have ranked higher in the state formula for funding. So who would pay?

Here’s the thing: the toll lanes come with an all new bonus fund – taxpayer money from the highway fund which could pay for exit 27 and then some.

In the transportation bill passed by Tillis and the legislature, the size of the bonus fund is set at half the amount of the bonds issued for the toll lanes. So how much is that in the case of the I-77 toll lanes?

“Roughly in the area of 150 to 160 million dollars,” says Charlotte Transportation planner Bob Cook – who sits on the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, which doles out the money. For local transportation planners, this bonus funding is found money. It’s never come before.

“The bonus allocation is new money coming into the region related to a toll lane project,” said Cook. The legislation calls it an “incentive” to take the toll lanes, a little sweetener you might say for the bitter pill of a half century of tolls.

House Speaker Thom Tillis is widely regarded as one of the most politically powerful men in the state and he supported the transportation bill with the bonus fund tied to the toll lanes.

The Governor signed the bill last year on June 26.

We reported previously on the “bonus” taxpayer money going to local governments in the area of the toll lane project. MORE:

On June 27 – the very next day – a group of ACN executives and their wives donated $26,000 to Thom Tillis’ senate campaign


But there was a second political contribution from ACN which coincided with state action moving toward a new exit 27.

On September 13, 2013 state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker toured Augustalee. Cornelius town leaders wanted her help for exit 27. And Decker told them there was hope.

“Here I sense a real spirit of common vision for the community,” Decker said after a special called meeting of the town commission with a bus tour of development sites.

That was September 13. On September 18, five days later, a company called TC Investors donated $25,000 to the superPAC Grow NC Strong which backs Thom Tillis for the US Senate.

TC Investors is managed by a company run by Robert Stevanovski – founder and chairman of ACN.

ACN VP and General Counsel Frank Messana e-mailed us a statement saying:

“In addition to being regular supporters of both local and national charities, ACN executives have been long time supporters of people dedicated to helping businesses and making better lives for the citizens of North Carolina. They have regularly supported office holders and candidates on both sides of the aisle and have made contributions to members of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

While you have pointed out the dates of certain contributions as well as other activities involving members of the current administration, please be advised that any similarity in timing is purely coincidental.”

ACN executives have donated repeatedly to North Carolina democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s elected Attorney General, although not as heavily as to Tillis.

The Washington based Center for Responsive Politics (which tracks campaign cash through OpenSecrets.org) has criticized the use of “TC Investors” to make the superPAC donation to Grow NC Strong because ordinary voters would not know from public disclosure documents who the individuals or interest groups were behind the $25,000 contribution.

“It makes it harder to track down who is actually providing this money and who would stand to benefit from it,” said Kurt Naas, who says he voted for Tillis repeatedly but leads the opposition to the toll lanes through the group Widen I-77.

I showed Kurt Naas the dates of the campaign contributions.

“Based on what you’re telling me that certainly has an odor to it,” Naas said. “The alignment certainly seems suspicious. Whether that was coincidental or not the alignment does seem suspicious.”

But Tillis campaign manager Jordan Shaw says Tillis’ support for an exit 27 near the Augustalee property goes all the way back to his days as a Cornelius town commissioner.

“To try to make a connection between contributions and the mobility formula and this project would ignore the fact that Thom Tillis has thought this was a good idea for more than 10 years, which I hope you will point out in your story predates these specific owners, predates Governor McCrory, predates Secretary Decker,” Shaw said.

In the heady days before the recession, the original developers of Augustalee offered to front the money to pay for exit 27 and to widen I-77 as well, then get paid back through property tax credits.

But now – with bonus money from the taxpayers, the new Augustalee landowners from ACN wouldn’t have to pay up front for the exit. The DOT projects the exit will cost from $25 million to $40 million, depending on when it is built and how much other road widening is included.

“It’s obviously a lot cheaper to make a campaign contribution of $25 thousand and get the taxpayer to foot the bill for this via toll lanes and some pork barrel legislation,” said Naas.


10 thoughts on “#NCSEN: What’s that? The OTHER shoe dropping?

  1. Now the NBC Charlotte I-Team has documented that a group of big time Tillis campaign contributors stands to make millions from your tax dollars tied to the toll lanes.

    Ruh ro, the new Black will be wearing orange?

  2. Pay for play politics surrounding Tillis leads to concerns on issues larger than a toll lane on I-77.

    Take illegal immigration. Tillis has told conservatives that he is ”against amnesty” while conveniently failing to disclose what he considers to be ”amnesty” but at the same time tells the NC Farm Bureau that he supports ”a pathway to citizenship” for illegal aliens, something most educated people consider full blown amnesty. But the key is to, as Deep Throat said in Watergate, to ”follow the money”. Tillis won the primary with millions of dollars of advertising pumped in by Karl Rove’s Crossroads organization and by the US Chamber of Commerce. Rove and the Chamber are both strident supporters of amnesty for illegal aliens. After all that establishment and special interest money spent to buy him the nomination, it would appear that Tillis is bought and paid for on the illegal immigration issue, and on the side opposite both the state and national GOP platforms.

    This may be the first of a steady stream of media exposes of Tillis and his pay for play politics. Why was our party dumb enough to give the biased liberal media a target rich environment by nominating Tillis?

  3. I’m not sure any of this really matters. The Democrat’s “war on women” jeremiad against Tillis and the GOP will carry the day. It’s sadly the Republican Party’s own fault. After all, it was a GOP Supreme Court that legalized abortion and a GOP Supreme Court that upheld Obamacare with its birth control provisions. There is absolutely nothing Tillis and the Republican Party can do to survive their own disastrous Supreme Court appointees. When history is written, future generations will find it hard to believe that a Republican Supreme Court destroyed the Republican Party on the two issues of abortion and birth control–which, but for the Court, have no business even being debated in a Senate contest.

  4. And then, right on cue:

    “‘Moving North Carolina’ debuts on Sept. 25 on UNC-TV”

    Press Release

    From UNC-TV:

    “Most of us take our roads and bridges, airports and railroads for granted. We have no trouble getting from one place to another. This excellent documentary reminds us that this has not always been the case in North Carolina with our treacherous coastlines, shallow rivers, nearly impenetrable mountains, and roads that were more mud and rut than anything else. This “moving” documentary tells the compelling stories of how our state pulled itself out of the mud and into the 21st century.”

    Guess who’s funding it? Go ahead and guess… Yep.

    “Tune in for a look back at the history of transportation infrastructure in North Carolina and its role in our economic growth on UNC-TV on September 25. Carolinas AGC assisted in development of this historical documentary through fund raising as well as providing information for the content of the documentary. The program was made possible in part by contributions made by the following nine Carolinas AGC members:

    Barnhill Contracting Co. | S.T. Wooten Corporation | Blythe Construction Co. | Sanford Contractors | Dane Construction Co. | Archer Western Contractors | Lane Construction Corporation | APAC Atlantic ,Inc. | NHM Constructors, LLC”

    Yep, you guessed it – every single one of them are local or regional highway construction contractors.


    I’m sure the timing is just a coincidence.

  5. Glad there is a man running as a write in candidate that isn’t taking donations from anyone and was railroaded out of the state GOP as he was finding corruption on both sides. Write in John Rhodes for US Senate… http://www.writeinrhodes.org to learn more

  6. I think when the history of the Tillis/Hagan race is written the credit for Hagan’s success will be attributed to Rev. Barber’s Moral Monday campaign. His campaign has brought the record of the NC General Assembly to the voters. Tillis was never going to be able to escape the record of the legislature. The polls showed early on that the best match-up for the Republicans was Dr. Greg Brannon. He had no legislative baggage hanging around his neck like Tillis. North Carolina let Karl Rove and the Republican establishment tell us who our nominee would be. It is only poetic justice that Kay Hagan be reelected. North Carolina has already turned purple and with each new transplant the state is turning from red to blue. I think that is why Kay Hagan will cruise to victory over the Rove candidate. It is a sign of the times and of the future of NC politics.

    1. What the deranged demagogue Barber has done is put out the distorted propagandized ”Blueprint” version of the legislature’s record. He is about as truthful is his description of things as Josef Goebbels was in describing events in the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. Unfortunately, if a lie is told often enough, people start to believe it, and the Blueprint gang also had the ultra leftwing media of North Carolina spewing out their distorted propaganda. Barber was hardly the only outlet of the Blueprint smear campaign.

      The failure was with an incompetent state GOP under its previous chairman which sat like a deer in the headlights when Blueprint was leaked before it even got off the ground. There was not nearly the level of pushback that there should have been. The GOP legislative leadership also is at fault for not either pushing Robin Hayes to do something, or to gear up early on to do something themselves to seriously counter Blueprint. They waiting far too late and then did far too little. The response to Blueprint was nothing short of political malpractice.

      Then to compound that malpractice, they did nothing to throttle the out of state meddlers from running someone from the legislature for US Senate. That hung the Blueprint target right on our Senate race. It will also hurt our legislators and probably the whole ticket because with a non-legislator as Senate nominee, we would not be seeing that level of ads attacking the legislature to get at Tillis. This was all very predictable, and our NCGOP leadership is to blame for us being where we are right now. They should have stood up and told Rove and the NRSC to keep their stinking and incompetent hands off of our Senate nomination.

  7. August 3rd, 2011. New Orleans.

    Cintra/Macquarie “Establishing a Public-Private Partnership (P3) Authority Act” adopted as an ALEC model bill.


    On the same day, Rep. Thom Tillis is named ALEC Legislator of the Year:


    Who is this years ALEC Legislator of the Year? NC Rep. Jason Saine, who also happens to currently be ALEC State Chair for NC, and whose district also happens to border Lake Norman, just to the west of Tillis’s district, and only 5 miles from that ‘Augustalee’ property.


    1. Ooops, forgot the last little bit.

      Who was ALEC State Chair for NC before Saine? Rep. Fred Steen, who is now Pat McCrory’s “Legislative Liaison”.

      Actually, I think his title could just as well be “ALEC’s NC Governor Liaison”. Along with being NC State Chair, he sat on the ALEC Commerce Task Force that adopted that Cintra/Macquarie P3 Authority Act in 2011.

      And now, he’ll be the guy tasked with selling McCrory’s plan to privatize more of our highways to the NCGA next year.

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