GOP House candidate Paul Coble on Monday made the super PAC formed to promote one of his opponents, George Holding, an issue in the 13th congressional race, claiming it would allow "massive and possibly unaccountable special interest money" to influence the GOP primary.
Coble, the Wake County commissioners' chairman and a former Raleigh mayor, said the super PAC formed by allies of Holding, a former U.S. attorney, could allow hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported money to pay for TV ads. He also raised the question of whether there was inappropriate coordination between the Holding campaign and the super PAC.
"Something smells rotten in the George Holding campaign," Coble said at a news conference at his campaign headquarters on Barrett Drive. He also began a radio ad stressing the same theme.
The Holding campaign denied there was any collusion with the super PAC and accused Coble of making baseless charges.
"This happens in politics," said Carter Wrenn, a strategist for Holding. "A fellow's campaign doesn't work out like he expects and he panics and he throws a mud ball. I think that is what has happened to Paul.''
Super PACs have played a major role in the presidential campaigns, allowing them to bypass donor limitations. Super PACs have to be run independently without any coordination with the candidate's campaign.
Last month, three supporters of Holding formed a super PAC called The American Foundations Committee Inc.
On Friday, the super PAC began airing a week's worth of TV ads - at a cost of nearly $60,000 - touting Holding. Coble noted that at that rate, the PAC could easily spend $500,000 between now and the May 8 primary - or more than the TV budgets of all three GOP primary candidates combined.
"This is a special interest group and what we want to know is, how beholden to this special interest group will George Holding be if this continues this way?" Coble asked.
Coble questioned whether there was coordination. He said that as the super PAC began airing its ads, the Holding campaign reduced the number of ads it was running by 35 percent.
Spokesmen for the Holding campaign and the super PAC denied there was any coordination. Wrenn said the Holding campaign had purchased air time well before the super PAC went on the air and, in fact, had been broadcasting TV ads almost continuously since September.
While super PACs have to eventually report their donors, Coble said the PAC will not be required to disclose the identity of many of its donors until after the primary when voters have already made their decision.
Palmer Sugg, a Raleigh attorney who is one of the directors of the super PAC, said the committee was obligated to disclose all first-quarter donors April 15 and would voluntarily disclose all donors before the May 8 primary.
"There won't be any surprises," Sugg said. "It will be family and friends."
Holding is a member of a prominent Raleigh banking family that has controlling interest in First Citizens Bank, and whose members are presumably in a position to make significant financial contributions to the super PAC.
Coble questioned whether Holding would benefit from liberal trial lawyer money - an anathema to many conservative GOP primary voters. Coble said that is contrary to Holding's pledge that he wouldn't take special interest money. "So who is driving George Holding's dirty super PAC?" asks the Coble radio ad that began running Monday. "Read the papers. It's trial lawyers. Trial lawyers fought against tort reform. The same trial lawyers who stood on the side of gay marriage. The same trial lawyers who fought for Obamacare in Washington. Liberal policies. Liberal money. Liberal backing for George Holding. A shadowy group hoping that you won't find out. It just stinks."
The super PAC was formed by three attorneys: Sugg, Joe Knott and Boyd Sturges III of Franklin County.
The Coble campaign noted that Knott is active in the trial lawyers association and appeared in TV ads against tort reform last year, and that Wrenn, a Holding strategist, also was a paid consultant for trial lawyers in opposing limits to malpractice lawsuits. Knott is also a former Republican nominee for attorney general who is active in Republican and conservative church circles. Wrenn is a longtime strategist for former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.
The Coble campaign also noted that Sugg listed as a client the Triangle Transit Authority, "a promoter of taxpayer-funded light rail boondoggle opposed by Paul Coble."
Sugg said he represented the authority in the late 1990s.
The campaign also provided campaign records showing that Sturges, a longtime friend of Holding, had donated to numerous Democratic candidates.
"He is saying the three people who are the heads of the super PAC, who all supported Jesse Helms, are liberals," Wrenn said. "That doesn't make a bit of sense. It just goes way across the line of anything that is accurate."
Wrenn said Coble approached Knott and asked for his support in his congressional bid. Knott had backed Coble in his run for county commissioner, said Wrenn.