Groups with ties to Democratic activists have targeted two key Wake County school board contests with political mailers urging voters to "stop the Tea Party."
It's a ploy that the targeted candidates are denouncing as negative campaigning - but one that has prompted fighting words.
One group of fliers - received in mailboxes in North Raleigh's District 3 and southwestern Wake's District 8 - asks people to vote against Republican school board Chairman Ron Margiotta and Republican school board candidate Heather Losurdo.
The fliers urge voters in both contests to vote for the Democratic-backed school board candidates to "stop the Tea Party."
"Wake County School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta is backed by Tea Party radicals with a right-wing agenda that is hurting our public schools," says the mailer sent by Common Sense Matters, a new political group.
A flier received in mailboxes Tuesday in Districts 3 and 8 urges people to request absentee ballots because "there's no excuse to skip this election and let the Tea Party win."
That flier was paid for by the N.C. Futures Action Fund, the same group listed as having funded the Common Sense Matters mailers.
Margiotta said the tactic could backfire.
"This may anger people," he said. "They'll look at it as being vile and vicious. People are turned off by that kind of thing."
At the same time, he said that fliers are causing him to reconsider how he'll run the campaign over the next two weeks.
"It's time to take the gloves off," he said.
Republicans took control of the school board after the 2009 elections. Critics of the majority have tried to link them to the tea party movement, accusing them of having an anti-public schools message. They've pointed to how school board Vice Chairman John Tedesco and Losurdo have spoken at tea party rallies.
Democrats have also tried to link the board majority to the Koch brothers and Art Pope, both leaders of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that has backed the national tea party movement.
"What does a 'radical' tea party agenda mean?" Losurdo said. "They're not talking about the issues in the campaign."
On Oct. 11, five of the nine Wake school board seats are on the ballot. Democrats would need to win all five seats, including ousting Margiotta and having incumbent Kevin Hill defeat Losurdo to regain the board majority.
Behind the fliers
Incorporation papers filed with the N.C. Secretary of State list Richard Nordan as the agent for the N.C. Futures Action Fund. Nordan, who is the former attorney for the Wake County Democratic Party, said Wednesday that he was not authorized by his client to discuss the mailers or identify the fund's contributors.
Common Sense Matters was formed this month as a "527 organization," so named for a section of the Internal Revenue Service Code.
There are no contribution or spending limits for such groups. But as a 527, it can't work with any political party, candidate or committee.
Michael Weisel, the group's secretary, did not return calls seeking comment. But in an emailed statement, he said: "Common Sense Matters was formed by concerned North Carolina citizens for the purpose of conducting research, sponsoring educational activities and events, and disseminating accurate and timely information to promote the general public's understanding of ways to maintain and improve North Carolina's common good, quality of life and social welfare."
Weisel, a Raleigh lawyer and former candidate for state treasurer, is an active figure in Democratic Party politics.
Two of the officers of Common Sense Matters work for companies run by Dean Debnam, a pollster who has been raising money for Democratic school board candidates and who formed a political action committee opposing the board majority. Efforts to reach Debnam for comment were unsuccessful.
Campaign finance reports show that Common Sense Matters received $21,000 from the Fired Up and Ready to Go Action Fund, also a 527 group, whose director is Scott Falmlen, a former executive director of the state Democratic Party.
IRS records show that the Fired Up and Ready to Go Action Fund received $21,700 last year, most of it from Falmlen's consulting firm and the N.C. Association of Educators.
News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.