Dirty Election Tricks Impacted NC – 2020 Style

NC had excellent progressive candidates at every level in 2020. People wonder why so many lost. There were many factors, including the many conservatives who went about campaigning door to door, completely ignoring the pandemic, and the many very crowded Trump rallies around our state that were strongly suspected of spreading Covid-19, but did energize his base to vote. The NC NOW board was shocked to hear about some dirty election tricks that were pulled on some candidates that had been endorsed by the NC NOW PAC this year. By early September, a 527 organization with national ties and deep pockets facilitated sending of mailers that tanked some progressive candidates in North Carolina. For two of the endorsed candidates in the Triad area, the mailers looked like they came from the candidates. They paid for recycled lies against another candidate the NC NOW PAC endorsed.

One of the candidates in the Triad area was Terri LeGrand, who ran to represent Senate District 31. The district was reconfigured in 2019 to go through all of Davie County and part of Forsyth County, see maps here. This race’s outcome was expected to greatly impact, if not determine, which party would control the NC Senate.

LeGrand is a Wake Forest University administrator who prioritizes fair redistricting, expanding Medicaid and investing in job-training programs. Her opponent was incumbent Joyce Krawiec, who is anti-abortion, against the Affordable Care Act and against the expansion of Medicaid.  You may also remember Krawiec as a recipient of pounds and pounds of lards for a snide remark she made about women’s march marchers in 2017.  Through the summer, LeGrand significantly outraised Krawiec as reported in the Triad City Beat on Sept 1.

Deceptive Mailers Appear To Be From Candidate

Some of the deceptive mailers distorted LeGrand’s position on police reform. The first mailers are clearly described in the Triad City Beat article, “National GOP Outfit Mailer Distorting LeGrand’s Position Police Reform.” They used LeGrand’s campaign photo, color scheme and fonts, showing her with very progressive national figures and saying she supports defunding the police. On the other side, the mailer references a local group working to remove the Confederate monument in Winston-Salem, and pushing for police reform.

The mailer was created to look like it was sent from the LeGrand campaign, but it misrepresented the positions of LeGrand and others shown on it. The mailers were clearly labeled as being paid for by Citizens for a Better NC Senate, a Republican-aligned political action committee (PAC) in Raleigh. 

The same Super-PAC, Citizens for a Better NC Senate, was on its fourth round of attacks by mid-July against Allen Wellons, a former 3 term state senator running to represent Johnston County in the state Senate. Those mailers were using debunked stories from 1996. A different Super-PAC attacked his opponent.

House Candidates Also Targetted

Candidate Dan Besse, who was running for NC House District 74, was targeted by Citizens for a Better NC House, another Republican-aligned political action committee (PAC) in Raleigh. Here are samples of one of the deceptive mailers targeting him.

Deceptive Mailer 1, side 1 – targeting Dan Besse

Besse expressed particular frustration with the lie that he supported “defunding the police” since as a city council member he consistently supported improved pay and safety equipment for city police officers and firefighters.  Besse received the endorsements of employee associations representing both groups.  Several local media outlets reported this and debunked the 527-funded materials, but the deceptive ads continued unchecked. You can read more about Besse’s real views on from his campaign website.

Deceptive Mailer 1, side 2 – targetting Dan Besse

National to State Connection

The ultraconservative Good Government Coalition interfered in a number of races on behalf of vulnerable Republican incumbents – in North Carolina and elsewhere. WRAL explains the national to North Carolina connection in “Don’t Let Out Of State Money Buy Your Vote Says GOP Ad Funded By Out Of State Group,” 10/14/20, WRAL. WRAL reported “the North Carolina money flows through the Good Government Coalition, a 527 group under U.S. tax law with a business address at a UPS store in Springfield, Va.” They chart the route of the money – the Good Government Coalition donates to a group called Citizens for a Better North Carolina. Citizens for a Better North Carolina distributed money to Citizens for a Better NC House and to Citizens for a Better NC Senate – the groups that targeted LeGrand and Besse. WRAL reported that those two groups spent millions on television ads this cycle. Ironically, one of the ads they ran closes with “don’t let out-of-state money buy your vote.”

Filling in another piece of the puzzle, WRAL reported that the direct-mail campaigns were managed by Martin & Blaine, a North Carolina consulting group run by Jim Blaine and Ray Martin, former staffers for Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

What is a 527 organization, and where did it come from?

According to Wikipedia.com, “[a] 527 organization or 527 group is a type of U.S. tax-exempt organization organized under Section 527 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. A 527 organization is created primarily to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates to federal, state or local public office.”  527 is the section of the tax code that applies to electioneering profits. A 527 organization does not fall under the regulation realm of the Federal Election Commission and is not subject to the same limits as FEC regulated organizations.

The Good Government Coalition is a 527 organization “dedicated to electing the next generation of Republican leaders to state governments across America,” according to its website.

The Sunlight Foundation explains advantages of 527 organizations in their glossary of campaign finance in the U.S.,

“Although 527s cannot coordinate or contribute with federal candidates, these groups can and do give money directly to local candidates. (Though each state has distinct and specific guidelines that 527s must follow.) They have a number of other advantages, too: They disclose donor information to the IRS, not the FEC, which is slower to report; they can accept unlimited contributions; and they can help donors get around federal contribution limits, because McCutcheon v. FEC wiped out the limit on aggregate campaign contributions.”

That 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision removed aggregate limits for individual donors giving to candidates, political parties and PACs.  More on this ruling at “McCutcheon v. FEC.”

Impact of false ads

One of LeGrand’s campaign team members said she believes the mailers worked. Many people were duped.  She was surprised how many comments she heard from people questioning LeGrand’s positions, which are stated clearly on her campaign website.

The LeGrand campaign tried to refute some lies on the campaign website as well.

Many people wrote letters to the editor supporting LeGrand and Besse. The Clemmons Courier carried some on Oct 8 and Oct 15, and the Winston Salem Journal published one supporting LeGrand that was written by a local Reverend.  However, they weren’t enough. Part of what the mailers did is annoy and turn off some potential voters.

527 Interference Tipped The Scales

The Supreme Court strikes again and this interference is some of the result – strong and well qualified progressive candidates got hit from left field with well funded attacks and lost. In this case, a 527 organization with national ties and deep pockets stepped in with powerful lies by funneling money through Raleigh to hurt strong progressive candidates around North Carolina. The Supreme Court decision allows 527 organizations to interfere all over the U.S. In the future, strong constitutional amendments could reign in Supreme Court rulings like McCutcheon that allow wealthy donors to contribute a potentially unlimited amount.

Many people who knew about the deceptive mailers thought strong responses should have been mounted during the election – they could have prevented some of the later attacks. If lawsuits had been filed after the election, they could deter future deception like this, or at least they could force the organizations to have to allocate more money for defense. As it went, there were no ramifications to the PACs or the 527 organizations for deceptive mailers. Future candidates need to know about these kinds of attacks, but it may be too difficult or expensive for them to respond while campaigning. A more coordinated response seems necessary. 

Sources:

McCutcheon v. FEC,” about 2014, OpenSecrets.Com

McCutcheon v. FEC Explained,” 4/3/14, Youtube – cute video breaking down the McCutcheon v. FEC decision and impact.

Lard being sent to office of NC senator who knocked women’s marchers,” 1/26/17, News and Observer.

Dark Money Attack Ads Target Lisa Barnes, Allen Wellons In NC Senate Race,” 7/21/20, Southern Nash News. (Original article in Wilson Times was removed by 1/11/20)

Democrats’ dream of retaking NC Senate runs through eastern Forsyth,” 9/1/20, Triad City Beat.

Trump, campaign crowd appear to violate North Carolina mask order,” 9/8/20, CNN. 

Trump is making a mockery of public health. His rally in North Carolina demonstrated it.” 9/9/20, VOX. 

National GOP outfit behind mailer distorting LeGrand’s position on police reform,” 9/12/20, Triad City Beat.

NC NOW Announces 2020 General Election PAC endorsements,” 9/24/20, NC NOW Website. 

WUSED – Angela Levine – SATURDAY, “Support Dan Besse”,” 9/28/20, Letter to the Editor in the Winston Salem Journal.

Letters to the Editor – Oct. 8,” 10/8/20, Clemmons Courier.

 “Don’t Let Out Of State Money Buy Your Vote Says GOP Ad Funded By Out Of State Group,” 10/14/20, WRAL.

Letters to the Editor – Oct. 15,” 10/15/20, Clemmons Courier.

The Readers’ Forum: Saturday Letters,” 10/16/20, Winston Salem Journal – with letters endorsing and defending Terri LeGrand and Dan Besse

The Readers’ Forum: Thursday Letters,” 10/21/20, Winston Salem Journal – with letters endorsing and defending Terri LeGrand and Dan Besse

527 organization,” Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/527_organization

Good Governance Coalition” website – https://goodgovcoalition.com/

IRS Document: “I. IRC 527 – POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS,” date unknown, irs.gov, at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/eotopici89.pdf

Shortlink: https://wp.me/p22b2e-31P

2 thoughts on “Dirty Election Tricks Impacted NC – 2020 Style

  1. Gailya, I’d like to respond with some thoughts about this article. There is absolutely no doubt that this was one of the dirtiest, nastiest local/state elections I’ve ever seen. What was done to Terri LeGrand and Dan Bessse was absolutely disgusting, totally reprehensible and indecent. The amount of outside money poured in was obscene and unbelievable. But: Terri also raised an unheard of, incredible amount of money but just chose to use it in an ethical and fair way. Can we stop what Joyce’s committees did? I don’t know if there is any legal way to stop the use of a candidates’ colors, photos, etc by another candidate. That starts sliding into 1st amendment rights I’m afraid. But I think this kind of campaigning needs to be looked at with the goal of trying to put some limits on how far you can go in creating outright lies about another candidate.

    Terri did well in her Forsyth County precincts where there were boots on the ground. She got hammered in Davie County – traditionally deep red and will probably remain so until the demographics change – if ever. The state Democratic Party made a HUGE blunder when they told their top candidates NOT to go door-to-door. Terri was running in a new district where she had no name recognition and no prior contacts. She needed to be out walking the streets, talking to people, having small outdoor gatherings when the weather was warm; she needed to have a massive door-hanger campaign and yes, door knocking too! People needed to SEE HER! Texting and phone banking just wasn’t enough for a candidate who was not known in the area ~ especially in Davie County. The Republicans were out on the streets, and so were some of us Democratic women working as an ad hoc group. We door-knocked 6 unorganized precincts (3 of them Terri’s) and the voter turnout increased significantly over 2016 in those precincts.

    Another issue is campaigns that hire hot-shot young managers/organizers who come into an area that they know nothing about: don’t know the population, the demographics, the neighborhoods, the geography, the cultures, past history and their webinar/college poly sci theories don’t always fit the area they’re in and the campaign they’re running. And too often they are not willing to listen to what those of us who have been on the ground for years and know our community have to say.

    And finally, yes, the 527s are awful but the Dems use them too so dirty tricks are dirty tricks by whomever chooses to play in that arena. We’re just not as willing to dig so deep in the dirt and while I really don’t want to see us go there, I’m pretty much done with Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high.” That hasn’t worked particularly well for the Democrats. We need to fight harder, smarter but with just as much force and intensity. And we didn’t. We always want to be the nice guys.

    We better come up with a better strategy for 2022…..and find a Senate candidate who won’t screw up (literally!) Lois Roewade

    On Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 5:07 AM NC National Organization for Women wrote:

    > gailya posted: ” The NC NOW board was shocked to hear about some dirty > election tricks that were pulled on some candidates that had been endorsed > by the NC NOW PAC this year. By early September, a 527 organization had > sent mailers that tanked some progressive candidates” >

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